RALEIGH — Last week’s encounter with a female bear and three cubs in Maggie Valley and Monday’s multiple sightings of a black bear passing through a busy neighborhood in Raleigh have prompted the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to remind the public that people can co-exist peacefully with bears by following basic safety guidelines.
First and foremost, never feed a black bear — intentionally or unintentionally. Bears are opportunistic feeders and will eat just about anything. Bears are particularly attracted to human garbage, pet food, and other human-associated foods, like bird seed. For this reason, if a bear is in the area, people should remove bird feeders and hummingbird feeders, even those advertised as “bear proof.”
They also should:
— Secure bags of trash inside cans stored in a garage, shed or other secure area;
— Place trash outside as late as possible, on trash pick-up days — not the night before;
— Remove leftover food as well as empty bowls, if feeding pets outdoors; and,
— Clean all food and grease from barbeque grills after each use. Bears are attracted to food odors and may investigate.
Black bears, by nature, are not aggressive animals, yet they can inspire fear, anxiety, and even fascination, in people who encounter them unexpectedly, such as the residents of the Five Points neighborhood in Raleigh who on Sunday night and Monday morning spotted what was likely a juvenile male bear looking for a place to call home.
May, June and July are the times when bears start showing up in more populated areas where they’re not normally seen, according to Colleen Olfenbuttel, black bear biologist with the Commission. These young bears, called transient bears, are usually young males who have spent the first year and a half of their lives with the adult female bear and suddenly find themselves pushed away as the female begins breeding again.
“While they may appear to be wandering aimlessly around, they are not necessarily lost,” Olfenbuttel said. “Most are simply exploring their new surroundings and will move on, particularly if they are left alone and there is no food around.”
When the Wildlife Commission receives a report of a transient bear in an area, staff assesses the situation to determine if the bear poses a threat to public safety or property, or if the bear is significantly threatened. In almost all cases, the Wildlife Commission advises that the best approach is a hands-off approach, allowing the bear to leave on its own.
“Trust me, the bear is more scared of you than you are of it,” Olfenbuttel said. “If you haven’t left food accessible to the bear, and if you leave the bear alone, then you can view it from a safe distance and it likely will move away on its own.”
While bears are making more frequent appearances in central North Carolina, the vast majority of bears live in the mountains and coastal regions of the state where human-bear interactions are common and people in these areas are learning to prevent bear conflicts by securing food and following other advice to coexist with bears.
“If the bear is already eating from your bird feeder, garbage can or pet food bowl, let the bear finish eating, and after the bear leaves, clean the area,” Olfenbuttel said. “Then, bring all food and attractants into a secure location. For residents who have ongoing problems with bears, removing any and all foods from properties is critical to minimizing conflicts.”
Additionally, residents can:
— Sprinkle ammonia or other strong disinfectants on garbage cans to make the odor and taste of food undesirable;
— Install electric fencing, which will protect bee hives, dumpsters, gardens, compost piles and other potential food sources; and,
— Talk to neighbors to ensure everyone in the community is learning about co-existing with bears and working together to prevent conflicts between bears and humans.
“No matter where you are or where you live, if you encounter a bear, the most important thing to do is leave the bear alone. Don’t try to feed it or chase it off — we can’t stress this enough,” Olfenbuttel said. “Crowds of people can unnerve a bear, perhaps causing it to act defensively.”