Every one of the 100+ chairs set up at the East Asheville Library was taken at Tuesday evening's Living with Black Bears program—a clear indication that this subject continues to concern and connect us. This was the third bear education program that the Haw Creek Community Association has organized over the last 10 years, and this week it reached beyond those of us who live in Haw Creek. Neighbors from Beverly Hills, Oakley, Swannanoa, and Fairview came to listen and learn, ask questions, and take home information to share with their friends and community.
Ashley Hobbs, Special Projects Biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), focuses on black bears in the state of North Carolina. Her knowledge and field experience were evident in her presentation, which provided everything each of us needs to know about living safely with black bears.
Buncombe County represents more than a third of all bear-related calls for help and advice that the NCWRC receives in a year, and that's because we have more bears and more human/bear interactions than any other county in the state.
The most important fact that Ashley emphasized is that the only reason bears appear at our door is food availability—and they can smell food 10 miles (or more) away! If we, and our neighbors, eliminate bird feeders, outdoor pet food sitting around, and setting out garbage cans the night before collection, bears might walk through our yard, maybe try a car door or two, but will likely go back to where they are at home and belong.
Ashley stressed that bears do not belong in our backyard, even though they were here long before we moved in. Just beyond our city development, there are thousands of acres of forest for the bears to enjoy—but our urban bears have figured out how to live the good life, getting big time calories with far less effort than roaming the wilderness to find nuts, berries, and grubs.
Ashley's advice is clear, "Make the bears feel unwelcome on your property. Eliminate all food sources. Keep letting them know they're not wanted here. Make lots of noise, scare them away. Don't encourage them in any way to hang around because it's not safe for you or them. Help them remember they belong in the wild."
One subject of discussion concerned unleashed dogs on hiking trails. Several residents in Haw Creek have recently had traumatic experiences while hiking with their leashed dogs who were attacked by bears that were chased by unleashed dogs. The East Asheville Bull Mountain area seems to be enough of a problem for the Park Service to have closed the trails for the time being. Ashley reminded everyone that unleashed dogs are not just a major safety issue for hikers, their pets, and bears, but that there are clear and strict ordinances in place that state pets must be leashed on all public trails. We should all abide by the law and help avoid scary events, both in our neighborhoods and on local hiking trails.
Responding to a question from the audience, Ashley said that NCWRC will not relocate or rehabilitate bears in cases of problematic interactions with people (breaking into homes for food, attacking pets or people when threatened), but may have to capture and euthanize them (with the exception of cubs). This is why it’s so important to discourage bears from becoming “comfortable” with our environment. Let’s all do our part to make sure we and the bears that inhabit our Haw Creek neighborhood remain safe.
For more information, safety tips, and resources go to the BearWise website at https://bearwise.org.