Encounters with bears on the rise

Sep. 03, 2013 @ 07:53 AM

It should be no surprise anymore when a black bear comes around.

While timid by nature, black bears are seen with more frequency as development brings tourists and residents deeper within the bears' natural habitat.

"Ninety-nine times out of 100, if you see one, it's for a fleeting moment," said Capt. Mike Hatley of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's law enforcement division. "However, most are transient bears, moving from one location to another. Encroachment brings on habitat destruction, resulting in more sightings."

Two weeks ago, at least two bears were seen on multiple occasions in the Wilson Creek area of Caldwell County. Drawn by egg-laying chickens and a barbecue grill, the bears are losing their shyness quickly.

Bears can even be seen in more suburban locales, drawn by things that most people wouldn't associate with bears.

"The bear complaints we get could be cut about 25 percent if people stop feeding birds outside, or leaving their grills out where the bears can lick the grease." Hatley said.

In the 11-county district Hatley oversees, including Caldwell, the number of bear sightings more than doubled from 2000 to 2011, from 40 to 97. In Caldwell County, four bear sightings were reported to the commission in 2000, seven in 2011; two sightings have been reported so far.

The bear or bears that killed seven of Chuck Larson's 13 chickens could pose a potential threat to his three children, especially if it's a mother and cub. State law allows people to shoot a bear if they are afraid for their own lives or those of their children, Hatley said. But a bear killed without a permit must be disposed of in a "safe and sanitary manner" on the property where it was killed, and must be reported to the wildlife commission within 24 hours. You are not allowed to make trophies or bear steaks from it.

"If you kill it without a depredation permit, you can't use it for food," he cautions. "Otherwise, people could just say they were in danger and use the bear for other purposes."

If a bear doesn't pose a danger but is damaging property, property owners can apply for a depredation permit that will allow them to shoot it. Another option is to allow hunters on your property. Bears shot under those conditions can be used for food, taxidermy or trophies.

"The best wildlife management tool in the world is people management, people who can harvest bears in problem areas," Hatley said.

Hatley advises to never feed your pets outside. He recommends putting grills inside after each use, and don't keep garbage or bird seed, or other food sources, where bears can get to them. And if a bear comes around, don't corner it.

"If you have a chance to see a bear, it's a beautiful thing," Hatley said. "It's just not good to give them a reason to come around."