RALEIGH, N.C. – Biologists at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are reminding North Carolinians that if they find a bear den to leave it alone.
Black bears are very resourceful in finding places to shelter late December through April as cold weather lingers and cubs are born. Dens may be found in rock cavities, brush piles, tree cavities, excavations under fallen trees, ground nests, under decks and in crawlspaces. As a result, you may stumble upon a bear den anytime time you are outdoors, whether hiking, working in your yard, cutting firewood or enjoying outdoor activities.
This month, a momma bear and her cubs were confirmed in a den on one of the Wildlife Commission’s game lands.
A hiker came upon a log pile pushed up to clear a field and the squeaking sounds of cubs,” described Danny Ray, a wildlife biologist with the Commission. “The hiker left the area immediately and called me. Thanks to his correct response, the bear family was not disturbed and remained peacefully in the den.”
If you find a den, either on your property or on public property, do not panic. Colleen Olfenbuttel, the Commission’s black bear & furbearer biologist, advises to leave the area quickly and quietly and to not disturb the den for the rest of the winter season. If the den is under your deck, shed, or crawlspace, leave the area and call the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 or contact your district wildlife biologist for further guidance. In almost all cases, homeowners can safely co-exist with the bear until it leaves the den in the spring.
If you inadvertently flush a female bear from her den, do not approach the area. Keep any dogs on a leash and leave immediately. The female will return to the den if you leave it alone, even if she does not return right away. Do not go back to the den area, as additional disturbance may cause the bear to leave permanently.
As spring arrives, black bears will emerge from their dens and become more active. Sometimes humans will come across cubs that are alone, waiting for their mothers to return from foraging and exploring. It’s best to assume these bears are not orphaned. However, if you suspect a cub has been orphaned, do not handle or pick it up, feed it, or worse yet, remove it. The best thing to do is leave the cub alone, note the location and contact the NC Wildlife Helpline or your district wildlife biologist.
Colleen Olfenbuttel, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission