Asheville's winter hibernation period is now over and as hiking and camping season heads into full swing it's important to be aware that black bears are also making their way through the forest and sometimes into areas populated by humans. Daniel Clere, education specialist at the WNC Nature Center, provided this information to help make everyone a little more "bear aware".
First the good news; The vast majority of wild bears will flee from people when found in the woods by running or climbing a tree. However, some bears that live near an urban area may show aggressive behavior towards humans or pets. This is due to having been "rewarded" with pet food on porches, leftover food in trash cans and at camping sites or simply having lived in the presence of people so much that they are "habituated" and unafraid.
Here are the best practices for being more "bear aware":
- Never intentionally feed the bears. Once they know humans can provide food they will stop at nothing to find more.
- Properly store trash and food. If in a home, place trash out on the day of pickup, and if you're camping, make sure to string your food and trash up off the ground. Choose a high limb and place it about four feet from the tree trunk to keep it out of a bear's reach.
- If you are approached by a black bear it's best to make yourself as big as possible by raising your arms in the air and shouting at it. Do not maintain direct eye contact and back away slowly. If near a building go inside but DO NOT RUN.
- "Playing dead" is not recommended for black bears. This is something recommended for grizzly bears when they feel you are a threat to their food or their young. Playing dead for an aggressive black bear only makes it easier for them to harm you.
Bear attacks are rare but do occur on occasion where bears are habituated to people. Attacks by healthy wild black bears are statistically almost non-existent. However, it's always best to take precautions when dealing with any animal in the wild.
If you want to learn more about the various wildlife found in the Appalachians, be sure to visit the Western North Carolina Nature Center.
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