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Bear Safety In Western NC Mountains

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Western North Carolina is filled with hundreds of thousands of acres of protected mountains and forests in the form of national forests and state parks. With that much-protected habitat, you are sure to see an incredible amount of wildlife. From rare bird sightings to Elk in the Cataloochee Valley, and of course, Black Bears roaming the hills.

Thanks to the efforts of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and federal wildlife preservation laws and funding, Black Bears have made a return to Western NC. With the increased black bear population in Western North Carolina, it is important for every resident and visitor alike to learn to safely cohabitate with them. After all, they were here first! Here are a few tips to help you safely live and interact with bears in Western North Carolina.


What To Do If You See A Black Bear

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Black bears are great climbers and can often be found in trees, especially cubs. 
  • If you see a bear in the distance, try to make noise as you get closer. You want to avoid surprising the bear and or making them feel cornered or trapped. 
  • Bears are highly protective and unpredictable when it comes to their cubs. If you see bear cubs leave the vicinity immediately
  • If you are in a close encounter with a black bear, back away slowly and do not run or climb a tree. Bears will be naturally inclined to give chase. Although Black Bears average 300 pounds they can weigh upwards of 500 pounds. But don’t be fooled, black bears can run up to 35 miles an hour and are excellent climbers. 
  • Most bears will avoid you and are scared of humans. If a bear does appear to be following you, stand your ground, face them, and wait. Most of the time it will back away. 
  • Playing dead is a well-known safety tip for Grizzly Bears, but it does not apply to Black bears. Do not play dead. Instead, if a bear attacks you, act tall and make loud noises. Use bear spray, throw rocks, and act aggressively. 


Bear Safety Tips For Hiking and Camping 

  • It is generally a good rule to never hike or camp alone or at night. Black Bears are most active in the early morning and late evening hours through the spring and summer months. If you fall or are hurt your partner will help and the noise and numbers will often scare bears away. National Forests will have advisories for certain areas at the Ranger station so you know what areas to avoid. 
  • It is a good idea to carry EPA-approved bear spray. Bear Spray is a lot like pepper spray for humans. It irritates and inflames the mucous membranes in the eyes and nose of the bear causing short-term pain that will make them leave, but is not harmful to the long-term health of the bear. 
  • Do not leave food, even scraps, in grills, around the fire, or in the trash. Keep food and trash sealed in a bear-resistant canister that seals in the smells.
  • Some campgrounds require bear canisters and some National Parks Services have developed pulley systems to store food in out of reach locations for hikers and campers alike. Find out about the bear safety rules in your campground before you go. 
  • Campers often forget that all scented items should be kept in bear canisters as well, such as toothpaste, sodas, and snacks, deodorant, etc.  Because bears have poor eyesight, they rely mostly on their strong sense of smell. Which is why you want to keep any appeasing scents sealed. 


Living With Bears In The City 

Black bear encounters are not just something that happens in the wild. From rural areas to mountain cities as large as Asheville, knowing how to coexist with black bears is essential.

  • Do not feed bears. This isn’t a neighborhood cat that everyone feeds when they come around. Eliminating the fear or normalizing a bear’s behavior with humans by using food can make a bear more brazen, and endanger the bear’s life and yours. 
  • Black Bears are omnivores, so your fruits and vegetable plants might be a tasty treat for them should they find it. Be aware when planting them in your yard. 
  • Thoroughly clean and store your grill safely. Bears have a strong sense of smell and when they are hungry after their long “nap”, they will follow any scent that is appeasing. 
  • Put trash out the morning of or late night before in bear-proof trash bins. Do not put trash out days ahead of time or you will be cleaning up torn trash bags in your yard should a bear smell it.  
  • One thing people often forget is their pet’s food. Leaving your pet food outside is just as bad as your food waste. 
  • Bird feeders are popular outside of homes, especially In Western North Carolina where birdwatching is such an abundant and rewarding hobby. However, if your area has had recent bear sightings, it is a good idea to take them down for a time, particularly during active bear seasons. 


Are Bears Common in Western North Carolina?

Bears are very common in Western North Carolina covering 60% of the land area of North Carolina. Black bears are the only type of bears found in North Carolina. They typically have a black body with a brown muzzle, and occasionally a brown blaze across their chest. In other areas of North America, black bears can commonly be brown or more rarely, white and blue. Sightings are fairly common as protection laws and efforts have been realized after scarcely low population levels in the 1950s to 1960s.


Are Bears Dangerous?  

Most black bears are shy, non-aggressive, and scared of humans. They will often run away or climb a tree when they see humans or interact. Bear attacks in North Carolina are rare, especially unprovoked attacks, and can often be avoided by using common sense. However, they can be dangerous in certain situations if they feel cornered, their cubs are threatened, or a dog exacerbates the situation. Because of this, it is unlawful to intentionally approach a bear within 50 yards. A healthy respect for bears space and limiting interactions as much as possible will help them have a healthy respect for humans.


When Is Bear Season in Western North Carolina?

North Carolina Bear Season runs from October 12 to November 21, 2020, and December 14 through January 1, 2021. North Carolina Law requires that all big game be reported including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and bears. Hunting bears with cubs or bears under 75 pounds is illegal. Many counties in Western North Carolina are Bear Sanctuaries where hunting bears is illegal. Check NC Wildlife Commission for Bear hunting regulations in your area.


Where to See Bears In Western North Carolina

Black Bears are commonly seen throughout Western North Carolina. Because so many cities, towns, and rural homes are backed up to or immersed in wooded areas, seeing a bear in your backyard while pouring a cup of coffee in the morning is a relatable and welcome occurrence for most North Carolina residents. Black bears are even common in populated areas of Asheville like neighborhoods and roads. Bear sightings are also frequent in Pisgah National Forest while visitors hike and camp, and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In all of these places, responsible reactions and a healthy respect for these beautiful creatures keep both you and them safe. If you want to get a closer look at black bears in a contained environment and learn more about their habits and defining behavior, WNC Nature Center is home to two Black Bears named Uno and Ursa. They also house a number of other animals that you can find throughout North Carolina. 

Bears are as much a part of mountain living as the mountains themselves. You will see them represented in artistic statues and wood carvings in Cherokee, Waynesville, Maggie Valley, and throughout most of Western North Carolina. Remember that the mountains of North Carolina are their home too. By having a healthy respect for wildlife and using common sense, we are sure to enjoy their majestic presence for years to come!

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