The Bear Necessities

Bear Cubs in Tree

Has there ever been a creature so fearsome yet so adorable? If you spend enough time hiking or picnicking in the mountains near Asheville, then odds are it's only a matter of time before your next bear encounter—and 2015 may be a particularly great year for sightings.

Abundant natural foods like acorns and berries this past fall mean more bear cubs. An average black bear litter is two cubs, but residents and biologists are seeing bear families with four and five little ones in tow.

Fortunately, the black bear tends to be friendly and will not attack humans unless provoked. Of course, the best way to avoid run-ins with North Carolina's largest mammal is taking measures to prevent a bear encounter.

  1. Keep your picnic area clean of food and garbage: The top reason for bear encounters is their search for food. Bears have been known to approach picnic areas and campsites to satisfy their hunger, so be sure to keep your eating and your sleeping areas separate. Always pack out your trash.

  2. Hang odiferous items out of reach: If you have something a hungry bear is likely to sniff out, keep it out of reach by slinging it over a branch at least 10 feet above ground and four feet away from the tree trunk or nearest major tree limb. While this may not ensure the safety of your food, it will buy you time if a bear finds you in the woods.

If you do see a bear during your mountaineering expedition, keep in mind the following safety tips:

  1. Bear SightingsDo not approach or feed the bear: A bear sighting is an awe-inspiring experience, and it's natural to want to be closer to this magnificent creature. But keep in mind, the black bear evolved as a killing machine, albeit a cute one. The last thing you want to do is encourage the bear to seek you out as a source of food.

  2. Back away slowly and loudly: Do not run or try to be a silent ninja, because startling a bear can have unpredictable consequences. You want the bear to be aware of your presence, and you want it to know that you are not prey. Stand tall, act big and make loud noises.

  3. Do not play dead: In the unlikely event of an attack, the National Park Service advises to fight back using whatever is available.

It is important to follow these basic guidelines not just for our own safety, but to protect the bears as well. If a bear become too aggressive toward humans for food, the proper authorities will have to put it down. Peaceful coexistence is entirely possible, so long as we treat bears with respect and caution.

Bear Sightings in Asheville

Bear in DowntownInteractions between bears and humans have been on the rise, as both populations continue to grow in Western North Carolina. It's easy to see why we love the same habitat; bears and humans share a lot in common. We both love exploring the mountains and we both love to eat.

Two bears photo by Brenda deLaet; Bear on wall photo by Valerie Barnes, Smoky Mountain News.