Forget the birdfeeders and dog bowls, this bear went straight for the kitchen cupboard

Steve Hewitt of the Villages of Plott Creek in Haywood County already has a pretty good idea about the concept of live and let live when it comes to bears.

There have been a number of bear sightings in his community, and one very close sighting indeed for he and his wife. About two weeks ago, at about 4 or 5 p.m., his wife thought she saw the couple’s black dog walking around outside the house.

It wasn’t — it was a bear and her cubs, “and they weren’t concerned” at all about human interest in their movements, Hewitt said.

The couple doesn’t keep bird feeders in the yard, though a neighbor had bird feeders torn down by bears. Hewitt also isn’t terribly worried about his dog tangling with a bear.

“He’s not a real courageous dog,” he explained. Hewitt believes people just need to live with the reality of bears, and leave them alone to go about their bear business.

Along with many other subdivisions and residential areas in Western North Carolina, the Villages of Plott Creek has sent out warnings to residents about the increase in bear activity.

Last week, in a newsletter, it was noted: “There have been several black bear sightings within and around the Villages of Plott Creek in the past four months. We are sending this notice to inform all residents to use caution with your children, pets, bird feeders and other food items in yards, walking and driving in the Villages. To date, none of the sightings have shown aggression other than damaging bird feeders and searching for natural food in yards.”

Bear sightings and bear visits are also taking place, of course, in other communities. Ray Daniel, who lives in the Cashiers community on Breedlove Road with his wife, Janet, has replaced three window screens torn out by bears.

The bears have actually made their way into the couple’s house on at least two occasions. Three or four weeks ago, the Daniels awoke to discover a bear had ripped through a screen and gotten in the kitchen — forensic proof, in the form of a perfect imprint of a bear paw, was discovered on a stainless-steel kitchen appliance.

The bear apparently ate chocolate chips, crackers and cookies, plus peaches and bananas.

“It didn’t like the oatmeal — the bear left that,” Daniel said, adding that peach pits and banana peels were left on the porch. Not long after that particular break-in, a bear got into the couple’s basement where trashcans were stored. Trash was strewn over the yard.

A helpful friend told the couple that they understood bears dislike the smell of Clorox. And, in fact, after Daniel scrubbed out the trashcans with the cleaner, the bears haven’t been back. But they’ve been seen around the community by neighbors, leaving the Daniels to keep a wary eye out for their unwelcome breakfast guests.

Bear encounters: Bears on the prowl for food lead to increased sightings

A bad year for acorns in the higher elevations, coupled with a poor berry crop region wide, has resulted in an influx of black bears into areas where the majority of mountain residents live: the cities, towns and mountainside developments of Western North Carolina.

Hungry bears are looking for acorns, moving into lower elevations in their hunt for food before hibernating for the winter. This has bear and human encounters in WNC tracking on a record pace this year.

“This year is an anomaly because of the acorn crop. There almost none (high) in the mountains,” said biologist Mike Carraway of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “The bears are looking for food.”

SEE ALSO: Forget the birdfeeders and dog bowls, this bear went straight for the kitchen cupboard

As hungry bears descend from the highlands, motorists are hitting and killing bears on the highway more than ever, particularly in such traditional bear habitat as the Pigeon River Gorge where Interstate 40 cuts through national forest lands.

The Wildlife Resources Commission reports cars have hit and killed more than a dozen black bears in WNC in the last couple of weeks alone. In all 12 months of last year, 10 bears were killed after being struck by motorists.

Additionally, phone calls about “nuisance” bears to North Carolina’s wildlife offices are numbering in the hundreds, well above what’s usually received, Carraway said. The state has received 300 calls so far this year, with the previous high for an entire year standing at about 400, he said.

SEE ALSO: Close encounters of the bear kind

The state does not capture and remove bears anymore: there’s simply nowhere to put them. Additionally, “we can’t catch hundreds of bears,” Carraway said.

The bottom-line on the issue, at least according to the state biologist and the region’s other bear experts? We’ve got to learn how to live with black bears. And to not feed them, to put up bird food and dog food as needed, to slow down and watch out for bears on the highway, and do those other easy, sensible things that will allow bears and humans to peacefully coexist.

 

Why so many?

The sheer numbers of bears now in the mountains are compounding the problem. Conservation efforts to help black bears in WNC thrive have proven successful, which is terrific, except that right now all of them are converging into the lower elevations in a desperate hunt for food.

“There’s a lot of mobility in and out of the park,” said Bob Miller of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “It’s the fall shuffle. But, normally this time of year, there would have been a good acorn crop (in the Smokies) they could have camped out on. They are headed to apple orchards, and so on.”

There have been the same issues, an increase in human and bear encounters, in east Tennessee, Miller said. Camper and bear encounters are down in the Smokies, because the bears have moved on — two backcountry campsites were closed because of bear activity, but park officials probably will reopen those soon, Miller said.

Plus, mother bears responded to a great acorn crop last year by having more cubs than normal this spring. Which is likely why so many local newspapers in recent days are running reader-donated photographs of a mother bears and their young — the mothers are trying to find food to save the cubs from starvation.

Wildland etiquette: The right and wrong way to view wildlife

By Kathryn Sherrard • Contributing Writer

Do you like to visit a state or national park? Why? For thousands of us, it is the chance to see wildlife. People flock to see bears, elk, moose, deer, wild turkeys, foxes, coyotes, bison and alligators. Other animals that are often spotted include raccoons, reptiles and amphibians.

A Walk In The Wild: Encounters of the wildlife kind

By Ed Kelley

If you spend much time in the outdoors, you will eventually have an encounter with wildlife. I am always on the lookout for signs of animal activity. Tracks, scat, scrapings, digging, paths through the leaves or grass, clipped-off leaves or twigs are indicators that some animal has been through the area. Some folks are afraid of going into the woods because of the possibility of meeting a wild animal. These fears are usually unfounded, as most denizens of the forest are fearful of humans.

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