Being well informed is key when it comes to black bears in Polk County

Published 10:52 am Thursday, August 18, 2022

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FOOTHILLS – It seems as though you can’t go anywhere in the area – to the store, grabbing a cup of joe at the coffee shop, or perusing online without local bear sightings coming up as a topic of conversation. In fact, one recent post online of a juvenile bear near Howard Gap Rd. in Tryon had 871 “likes” and generated 22 comments from readers, while another sighting of a momma bear and her three cubs off Rippy Rd. in Tryon had the internet equally abuzz.


While seeing a bear in the wild or in your backyard can be very exciting, there are precautions everyone should abide by to keep yourself and the bear(s) safe. 

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BearWise is a program that was developed and supported by black bear biologists and state wildlife agencies from across 15 states to educate and inform about black bear behavior and to help people live responsibly with black bears. The BearWise website ( provides practical insights about encounters in the wild and what to do to minimize contact at home. 


The BearWise website offers bear safety tips including how to hike, camp, and fish safely. It also provides information regarding bears and pets, as well as tips on protecting livestock, commercial beehives, crops and orchards.


Linda Masterson, communications and marketing director of the BearWise program, said black bears are amazing creatures, and the website offers month-by-month articles on what bears are doing during a particular month. 


The two things I would single out would be bears’ amazing sense of smell – seven times more powerful than a bloodhound’s – they can detect food odors from more than two miles away and follow them to their source,” said Masterson. “Also, to note is the bears’ prodigious memory. They have what amounts to a built-in GPS. Once they find a good food source, whether that’s a patch of berries, a bird feeder or a trash that goes out every Thursday night, they can unerringly find their way back, and will remember that site forever.”


Also, it’s important to remember that as we continue to encroach on the black bear’s habitat, there will be more and more encounters. Learning how to minimize risks while living among wild creatures can be achievable according to North Carolina Wildlife Biologist Justin McVey. He oversees Mountain District 9 of western N.C. including Polk County.


“Number one, you’ve got to secure your trash,” said McVey while conveying if you’ve got bears there’s probably a reason they’re attracted to your property. “They last thing we want to see is your area becoming another Asheville when it comes to bears, so we all must learn how to live responsibly with bears. Make your trashcans bear safe, take in bird feeders this time of year, and don’t leave pet food out in bear season. We want to ensure we’re not doing anything to turn a sighting into a concerning situation.”