North Carolina Wildlife: Be BearWise as Bear Activity Increases

Black Bear with bird feeder. Source: NC Wildlife, photo credit Catherine's Creativity/Shutterstock
Black Bear with bird feeder. Source: NC Wildlife, photo credit Catherine's Creativity/Shutterstock

With fall temperatures falling, bear activity is increasing, and biologists with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission are reminding people to protect themselves and bears by following the six BearWise® Basics to reduce potential conflicts.

Bears’ appetites are biologically programmed to go into hyperdrive in the fall because they need to put on a thick layer of life-sustaining fat before they turn in for the winter. This annual power-eating marathon is called hyperphagia. During hyperphagia, bears must consume 10 times as many calories as they need during the spring and summer, which means finding 20,000 calories a day or more. To find those extra calories, bears will often forage outside of their normal ranges, venturing near homes, campgrounds and trails, and trying to cross busy highways to find food.

Because of this, the first BearWise Basic people should always follow is probably the most critical. Never feed a bear — either intentionally or unintentionally. Bears are particularly attracted to human garbage, pet food, and other human-associated foods, like bird seed. During this hyperphagia phase, bears can be protective of the food sources they find, so it’s particularly important to keep food secure and away from bears.

Said Colleen Olfenbuttel, the Commission’s black bear biologist:  “Store bags of trash inside cans in a garage, sheds or other secure area, or use garbage cans or trash containers with a secure latching system or that are bear-resistant. Place trash outside as late as possible, on trash pick-up days — not the night before.”

People should also:

  • Remove bird feeders when bears are active. Birdseed and other grains have high calorie content making them very attractive to bears.
  • Never leave pet food outdoors. Feed outdoor pets portion sizes that will be completely eaten during each meal and remove leftover food and food bowl.
  • Clean and store grills. After you use an outdoor grill, clean it thoroughly and make sure that all grease and fat is removed.
  • Alert neighbors to bear activity. See bears in the area or evidence of bear activity? Tell your neighbors and share info on how to avoid bear conflicts. Bears have adapted to living near people; now it’s up to us to adapt to living near bears.

In addition to removing food attractants, residents can:

  • Install safe electric fencing, which will protect bee hives, dumpsters, gardens, compost piles, and other potential food sources.
  • Consider using a bear-resistant trash container.
  • Talk to neighbors and consider becoming a certified BearWise community.  BearWise communities commit to co-existing responsibly with bears, securing all potential food sources, and knowing when and how to report bear activity. BearWise certified communities work together to prevent conflicts between bears and humans.

While black bears, by nature, are not aggressive animals, they can inspire fear, anxiety and even fascination, in people who encounter them. If left alone, most bears that have wandered into a residential area will quickly retreat to their natural habitat, particularly if no food source is around.

Said Colleen Olfenbuttel, the Commission’s black bear and furbearer biologist:  “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. Crowds of people can unnerve a bear, perhaps causing it to act defensively.”

For more information about living responsibly with black bears, visit www.bearwise.org. For more information about black bears in North Carolina, visit the Commission’s black bear species page.

With questions regarding bears and other human-wildlife interactions, call the Commission’s NC Wildlife Helpline toll-free at 866.318.2401. The call center is open Monday through Friday (excluding holidays) 8am-5pm.

Source: Jodie Owen, NCWildlife.org

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