North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Regarding the recent bear incident in western N.C.

Author: NCWRC blogger/Monday, September 24, 2018/Categories: Blog, Wildlife Management

Regarding the recent bear incident in western N.C.

Recently, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission made the difficult decision to euthanize an adult female black bear that was involved in an incident that injured a Swannanoa citizen. We understand that many members of the public have expressed concern about this decision. We would like to take this opportunity to share why we made the decision, as well as what you can do to help our agency prevent future bear conflicts.

First, our agency is very understanding of typical behavior in black bears. We place a lot of emphasis on having people be responsible for preventing and resolving bear conflicts. That is why our agency is participating in the BearWise initiative, a regional program to help people live responsibly with bears. This program is being promoted by all 15 states in the southeast. This program is not only about educating people about living responsibly with bears, but also providing resources and tools to avoid conflicts, as well as creating BearWise-certified communities. A key message and tenant to being BearWise is to secure attractants, mainly trash and bird feeders.

Most situations are resolved through education and following the BearWise Basics. Our procedure when we receive a call (N.C. Wildlife Helpline 866-318-2401) is to advise the person on what they can do to prevent or resolve a bear conflict, which 99 percent of the time is securing attractants (e.g., trash cans, bird feeders, pet food, bee hives). For example, in 2017, we received 1,182 phone calls about human-bear interactions (includes observations, questions, and complaints). Of these phone calls, we did not attempt to trap and euthanize any bears, as none exhibited behaviors that were determined to be aggressive or dangerous. Most situations are resolved through education and following the BearWise Basics.

However, in this particular situation in Swannanoa, the female bear’s behavior had escalated to the point that she was a threat to public safety. When bears behave defensively, they typically withdraw as soon as they view that the threat is gone. However, the bear in this situation did not withdraw and continued to bite and scratch the victim, despite the victim responding appropriately prior to and during the incident. The bear’s behavior was not typical of what we normally see in bears.

Once a bear has learned an aggressive behavior, they will repeat it and pass on that behavior to the cubs. Our biologists do not take lightly the decision to euthanize a bear and have only had to do so one other time since 2007. In that situation, the bear was purposely fed by the public, despite our agency’s efforts to stop people from doing so. It resulted in the bear becoming habituated and entering a vehicle occupied with children.

Relocation of the female adult bear was not possible, as adult bears will attempt to return to their home range and original site of capture. Several studies have documented their amazing homing ability. They are either successful or are hit by a car in attempting to do so. Here is a link explaining why relocation of bears is not an option for resolving conflicts with bears:

https://www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/Species/Mammals/Black-Bear/WRC-Will-Not-Trap-Or-Relocate-Bears

Capturing the female bear and placing her in captivity was also not an option, as adult wild black bears do not cope well with permanent captivity. It actually would have been very inhumane to have implemented this option. While this idea makes a lot of people feel better about the outcome, wild bears are stressed to the point that they have severe mental and physical issues in captivity.

The cubs were relocated to a remote area, as they were old and healthy enough to be independent. Unlike adult bears, the cubs are young enough to adapt to living in a new place.

People are the main cause for human-bear interactions. While the Swannanoa victim was BearWise and did not have trash or bird feeders out, there was unsecured trash in the vicinity. Our agency encourages people to secure attractants to not only prevent bear conflicts, but to prevent conflicts with other wildlife (e.g., raccoons, foxes, coyotes).  

We realize some are upset by this situation, but you can do something by helping us promote the BearWise message to your friends and neighbors. Implementing the Six BearWise Basics will prevent future incidents and help keep both bears and people safe. If you live in western North Carolina, we have created a list of resources for purchasing a bear-resistant trash can. If you and your neighbors cannot get a bear-resistant trash can, please keep your trash in a secure area until the morning of trash pick-up. And if you live in an area where bear sightings are common, we encourage you to contact your town officials and ask them to consider making bear-resistant trash cans available to their citizens.

Bears have adapted to living near people; now it’s up to people to adapt to living near bears.  We can do this with support and help from the public. 

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