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North Carolina’s First BearWise® Recognized Communities

Author: NCWRC blogger/Thursday, December 2, 2021/Categories: Blog, Conservation, Wildlife Management

North Carolina’s First BearWise® Recognized Communities

Bears have been in the news a lot lately here in North Carolina. More black bears are on the landscape thanks to successful bear management practices employed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission staff, and more people are seeing bears as urban sprawl expands the human footprint encroaches into bear habitat. With humans comes trash, and with unsecured trash comes curious and hungry bears. 

In a recent press release, the Wildlife Commission recognized its efforts with other southeastern states to create a formalized strategy for educating the public on best practices to coexist with bears, called BearWise®.  BearWise is a regional outreach effort to provide science-based resources and communicate consistent and effective messaging about how to live responsibly with black bears. BearWise encourages residents, businesses and entire communities to take actions to keep bears wild and people safe.  

In western North Carolina, where black bears are prominent, several communities decided they wanted to take BearWise to the next level and become a BearWise Recognized Communities. To achieve this status, they had to commit to a list of requirements set forth by BearWise and the Wildlife Commission. 

  1. Meet with a Wildlife Commission biologist to discuss current practices. 
  2. Identify current attractants and determine the best solution to secure them. 
  3. Enforce the agreed upon solution. 
  4. Serve as an ambassador of BearWise practices. 
  5. Receive annual "checks" by Wildlife Commission staff to ensure compliance.

Wildlife Commission staff work with community leaders to execute their plan and maintain in perpetuity. In the fall of 2021, four communities were officially recognized as BearWise Communities.  

Highlands, NC 

In 2018, Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor and the Bear Education and Resources (B.E.A.R.) Task Force attended a BearWise introductory meeting in Asheville. Bears had attempted to enter homes and were interacting with pets. The townspeople needed a solution. Upon leaving the meeting, the Highlands representatives affirmed they would become the first town in the United States to achieve BearWise recognition. 

The mayor worked with the Highlands Board of Commissioners to implement an ordinance within town limits requiring the use of bear-resistant garbage carts to meet the requirement to secure garbage. The mayor also called for commercial and street garbage carts downtown to be replaced with bear-resistant receptacles. The mayor and board members then requested the assistance of Wildlife Commission biologists to create an ordinance addressing attractants. As a result, the town enacted an ordinance that states, “leaving food, garbage or any other substance in any manner that attracts or allows bears access is prohibited.” Violation of either ordinance first prompts a warning, then a fine for each consecutive violation.  

Since enacting the ordinances in early 2021, bear conflict calls to local law enforcement and sanitation have decreased. Highlands has become the “gold standard” for future recognized BearWise communities in North Carolina and beyond. 

Mountain Meadows I & II 

The neighborhoods of Mountain Meadows I and Mountain Meadows II encompass about 80 homes in Asheville. Residents became interested in BearWise after bears were entering homes, getting into garbage and displaying habituated behaviors in the neighborhood. 

In Mountain Meadows I, residents agreed to secure garbage in their garage on non-collection days and only place garbage carts at the curb the morning of collection. They also agreed to remove attractants for at least two weeks after experiencing bear activity and adhere to the six BearWise Basics.  

In Mountain Meadows II, residents had previously purchased bear-resistant garbage carts in bulk before pursuing BearWise recognition. Now the neighborhood has agreed to also follow the same trash collection day guidelines and BearWise Basics as its sister neighborhood.   

Residents of both neighborhoods act as BearWise education ambassadors to the rest of the Town Mountain area of Asheville. 

Black Mountain Neighborhood 

This community of approximately 35 homes is unique because it is the only BearWise Community in the United States without a unifying structure (e.g., homeowners association, road maintenance association, government structures). Residents decided to become BearWise after bears were getting into garbage and displaying habituated behaviors in the downtown area.  

The community agreed to secure garbage in their garage on non-collection days and only place garbage carts at the curb the morning of collection. They also agreed to remove attractants for at least two weeks after experiencing bear activity and adhere to the six BearWise Basics. Residents will act as BearWise education ambassadors to the town of Black Mountain and are encouraging town leaders to consider making the town an official BearWise Community. 

The commitment of these North Carolina residents will benefit their communities for years to come. If you’d like to learn more about how to become a BearWise Community, visit BearWise.org

Photos:

Highland recognition ceremony. (L to R: Left to Right: NCWRC Justin McVey, Highlands Town Manager Josh Ward, Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor, NCWRC Ashley Hobbs, Cynthia Strain, Gail Kinstler, Helen Moore, Diane Levine, Gerri Tulley, Master Officer Leah McCall, Chief Andrea Holland, NCWRC Colleen Olfenbuttel. Photo credit: NCWRC)

Mountain Meadows I sign presentation. (L to R: Brent Russell, Justin McVey, Ashley Hobbs, Janet Winemiller. Photo credit: Tom Winemiller)

Black Mountain sign presentation. (L to R: Ashley Hobbs, Kiersten Hall, James Tomberlin.)

Town of Highlands signage. (Photo credit: NCRWC)

 

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