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Bear in mind

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By Don Mallicoat –

It’s Spring and along with all the other things going on in the outdoors we need to be aware of a long time mountain resident: bears. Nuisance bear complaints in the mountains are on an upward trend and have been for over ten years. Along with a burgeoning bear population there are other factors causing this. Most neighborhoods are seeing bears in suburban areas.

It really comes down to two factors: loss of habitat through development and less forest management, and bear needs and habits. Bear are highly adaptable, with males having a home range of up to 20,000 acres. When a new housing development is built, the bear will either move or adapt to the new environment. If that new development includes bird feeders, pet food, and garbage cans then the bear adapts because its primary need for food is being met.

The other reason bears are being seen more in neighborhoods is loss of natural habitat. If you charted bear population growth and timber harvests on Pisgah National Forest on a line chart, the lines would diverge. Bear populations in the mountains have doubled over the past 20 years. Timber harvests have plummeted. Why is this important?

Bears think about two things: eating and not getting killed. Bears have different dietary needs during different seasons. In their natural habitat, they browse on grass and clover and eat insects during the spring. In summer their diet normally turns to wild berries as well as insects. In autumn, as they put on fat for winter hibernation, they eat hard mast like acorns, hickory and beech nuts along with wild grapes, wild cherries, and pokeberries.

The only one of those food sources provided by our current mature forests is the hard mast during autumn. All of the others are provided along edges of openings like logging roads and clear cuts. Sorry, but that’s the truth. When is the last time you saw a blackberry patch under a stand of mature hardwoods? So when we combine the bear’s primary concern (food) with its adaptability, and loss of natural habitat, you end up with bears visiting human habitation looking for food.

To compound the problem, when bears come out of hibernation hungry and start looking for food, the sows are driving away their yearling male cubs as she prepares to mate. Mature males are establishing their dominance and less than friendly to those same young males. Therefore frustrated young males cause most nuisance bear complaints during early spring.

Given all those factors, how do we learn to live with bears? Most bear complaints in neighborhoods are caused by food. Birdfeeders, pet food outside, and trash cans left out overnight are the principle bear attractants in a housing area. In most cases, if you remove the source of food, the bears will go away. This is really important in the spring when bears are hungry coming out of hibernation. It may mean not putting out the bird feeder until June. And the problem may not go away after spring.

As we encroach on wildlife habitat, we need to learn more about their habits and needs. We also need to encourage the Forest Service to provide more successional growth forests for our wildlife. It is up to us to be vigilant. Bears are only following their instincts. You can learn more about bears and their habitat needs at the WRC website, www.ncwildlife.org.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, in partnership with several organizations in supporting more than 35 free fishing events for kids from late May through early June. The events are held throughout the state each year in celebration of National Fishing and Boating Week. Young anglers registered at any fishing event can enter a statewide drawing for a chance to win one of more than 150 fishing-related prizes. The grand prize is a lifetime sportsman license, which includes freshwater and saltwater fishing privileges, as well as hunting privileges. The first prize is a lifetime freshwater fishing license. Local sponsors for many events will provide prizes and gifts to registered participants as well.

In our area events are at Lake Powhatan on June 1st from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Contact is Lori Stroup at 828-877-3265. In Madison County there will be one at Max Patch Pond on June 8th from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact is Brandon Jones at 828-689-8716.

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