Black bear sightings on rise

Published 3:07 pm Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bryan Hutcherson and Jayme Kujawa had an interesting guest at their house last Thursday night in Columbus.

Around midnight, they heard some noise and came outside to find a black bear in their yard.

Their dog, Hunter, chased the bear up a tree. When they went to bed, the bear was still sleeping in their tree.

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Don Tyson, who lives in Gillette Woods, recently found a bear he described as a young adult weighing around 200 lbs. destroying his birdfeeder.

Tyson said he yelled at the bear and it ran off into the woods.

&dquo;I was close and personal (with the bear),&dquo; he said.

Priscilla Eichelberger discovered a mother bear and two cubs snooping around her garage at her home on Miller Mountain, looking for honey.

Black bear sightings have been a common occurrence in recent weeks, North Carolina Wildlife Game Warden Toby Jenkins said. According to Jenkins, he&squo;s received five calls just this week on bear sightings.

&dquo;We&squo;ve got the biggest population of bears we&squo;ve ever had in North Carolina,&dquo; Jenkins said. &dquo;The bear population is booming.&dquo;

Why is the population booming?

Locally, according to Jenkins, it&squo;s because hunters can&squo;t use dogs, which is the best way to hunt bears. Developers won&squo;t allow dog hunts on their properties, Jenkins said.

Overall, it could be because the bear cubs, who stay with their moms for nearly two years, are beginning to disperse and find new home ranges. They are also all over the place because berries haven&squo;t ripened yet. Once the berries ripen, the bears will be less visible in populated areas, Jenkins said.

This boom in the population of bears has been evident all over North Carolina, not just in the usual mountainous areas, Jenkins said.

&dquo;They&squo;re roaming and looking for food,&dquo; he said.

According to Jenkins, they&squo;re finding food sources in the local community such as bird feeders, pet food and outside trash bins.

The bears will keep coming back to a food source unless it is taken away.

The North Carolina Wildlife Commission lists the following tips on its website:

&ull; Do not allow bears access to garbage or other food. Store garbage inside buildings or other areas that bears cannot get to. Do not feed bears under any circumstances. If the area is served by a garbage collection service, place garbage out only during the day of collection. Under no circumstances should garbage be left out overnight. Keep all garbage sites clean. Do not leave pet foods out overnight. If bird feeders have been visited by a bear, stop feeding birds for one to two weeks. Persons living in bear range should install &dquo;bear&hy;proof&dquo; containers or use dumpsters with heavy gauge metal lids as a longterm solution to bear problems.

&ull; Repellents. There are no repellents that are registered for use on bears. Some have found that sprinkling ammonia or other strong disinfectants on garbage can mask the odor of food.

&ull; Exclusion. The following have helped to prevent bear damage. Make sure dumpsters are bolted and locked and chain down heavy metal garbage cans and secure the lids. Wood or plastic dumpster lids do not keep bears out. Replace these with metal lids that can be locked and make sure sliding side doors can be latched so only humans can open them. Fencing in dumpsters or garbage collection areas can be very effective. A chain link fence with a barbed wire overhang can work well. An electric fence powered with a high voltage, low impedance charger can exclude bears; however, this should be done only if safety precautions can be implemented to protect children and adults. There are several electric fence designs which can be provided by the local district biologist if this is deemed appropriate.

&ull; Frightening or scaring the bear. Shouting, clapping, blasting a car horn or motion-sensitive lights may scare off a bear temporarily. Do not taunt a bear if it fails to respond to your efforts to frighten it. These methods are only temporary solutions.

&ull; Crowd control. Sometimes when a bear is sighted, crowds may gather. This seemingly harmless situation can be aggravated or became potentially harmful as the crowd grows. People can cause bears to display unpredictable behavior. Law enforcement personnel should disperse crowds and allow the bear to exit without interference.

Jenkins said the only bears that are found in this area are black bears. According to &dquo;National Geographic Magazine,&dquo; black bears grow to around 5 or 6 feet. They can weigh anywhere from 200 to 600 pounds. Bears travel long distances fairly fast, according to the &dquo;National Geographic&dquo; website. They&squo;ll roam a home range of 15 to 80 square miles.

The females give birth to two or three blind, helpless cubs in mid-winter and nurse them until spring, &dquo;National Geographic&dquo; said.

As far as safety goes, Jenkins said, it&squo;s best just not to go anywhere near the bears.

&dquo;Just stay away from them and they&squo;ll go away,&dquo; he said.

The most important thing for people to understand is that the emergence of the bears is temporary, the North Carolina National Wildlife Commission website says.

Phil Holbert, who owns Holbert&squo;s Bee Supplies in Saluda, agrees. He sees problems with bears from time to time.

&dquo;They can cause trouble when they&squo;re around, but luckily they&squo;re not around long,&dquo; he said.