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Why Won't The State Relocate Bears Spotted In The Triad?

5:34 PM, Jun 11, 2013   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC - The bear, or bears, just won't leave the Triad. Police and wildlife officials don't know if there are more than one or if it's the same one everyone including police is seeing.

READ: Bear Sighted By 2 Walking in Greenway in Greensboro

There have been several sightings in the past few weeks including one Monday night near the Downtown Greenway in Greensboro.

The state won't relocate bears unless there is a threat to humans. It also says there just isn't any place to take them. 

On the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission's website, it says "Simply catching every bear that someone sees is not an option; we have no remote places left to relocate bears where they will not come into contact with humans."

On the surface, that doesn't statement seem to make sense. The state is sprawling and known for its mountains, There has got to a be a place to drop off a bear, right?

Turns out, it's a bit more complicated than that.

WFMY News 2's Morgan Hightower spoke to a few bear experts to make sense of that statement. 

"They [The State Wildlife Commission] prefer(s) not to get involved because once they do, there is a risk. If they have to tranquilize that bear, it's a risk, if it's up in the tree, and it falls out of the tree, because it's tranquilized, or it could get injured on the way down, it's just not good for the bear," explained Guy Litchey, Curator of Mammals, North Carolina Zoo.

"There are just so many scenarios that are bad for people and bears so it's best just to leave them alone."

Guy Litchey is a mammal curator at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.

The zoo has two black bears on display.

A few years back, the state would relocate bears that made their way into the city but that stopped in 2005.

The bears didn't always stay in the areas they were relocated. Most of the area where the bears were taken weren't heavily populated with other bears, whereas now, they are.

Below is an interview between WFMY News 2 and Colleen Olfenbuttel, a black bear and furbearer biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

MH: When did the commission decide to stop relocating bears? Why?
CO: In 2005, we drafted guidelines on dealing with human-bear interactions. In these guidelines, we decided it was more effective to attempt other methods first to resolve human-bear interactions, rather than immediately going to relocation.  However, prior to 2005, we were rarely relocating bears, as we saw that other methods provided better outcomes for the bear and for people. We found that by instructing people to remove attractants (bird feeders, garbage, outdoor pet food), the bear would move on and, in the process, prevent other bears from being attracted to that area, as the original source of attractant is gone.  Removing sources of attractants provides a long-term, effective solution versus moving the bear, as more bears will keep coming in as long as the attractant remains.  

When we are notified of a bear, we will evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis. Last year, our district biologists received 603 phone calls about bears and just about all these phone calls were resolved by educating the caller about normal bear behavior and removing the attractant that was bringing the bear to the home or neighborhood.  

It is important to understand that the idea of relocating bears and the information and guidance we provide on our web page is primarily related to areas where bears occur year-round.  Throughout much of western and eastern North Carolina, bears are common and routinely live in close proximity to people.  In these areas, some bears become problems for homeowners by getting into their garbage, tearing down their bird feeders and eating the bird seed, and other similar scenarios.  Moving these bears as discussed above does not generally provide a long-term solution to the problem, people that live in these areas must develop appropriate habits that will discourage bears from coming to the house to find food.  In some locations people intentionally feed bears close to their homes because they enjoy seeing them; this is an extremely bad practice and is strongly discouraged.  

The bears currently roaming different areas of the Piedmont are a slightly different situation, these bears are dispersing bears simply searching for suitable habitat to establish a home range.  When a transient bear is reported in a town or city, we will examine the situation to determine the best course of action that considers the safety of the public and the bear. Bears have been wandering through the Piedmont region, and into towns and cities, since the 1980's. And in certain towns/cities in North Carolina, such as Asheville, bears are a weekly visitor.  Even with these bears in highly populated area, they do not pose a public hazard unless people try to feed the bear or corner the bear.  Our years of experience has shown that the most effective option is to leave the bear alone and prevent people from crowding the bear; if people crowd the bear, the bear can't naturally wander out of town. 

One reason we see bears wandering in towns or up trees in a city is that the bear accidently wandered in during the night, when human activity is low. As the sun rises, the bear feels threatened by all the human activity and will try to find a safe place to go, often up a tree. If people are kept away, the bear will eventually come down from the tree and find its way naturally out of town. 

If a transient bear appears to be having difficulty finding its way out, then we will determine the next course of action, such as capture and relocation. However, we have seen that after 1-2 nights, the bear leaves on its own and is never seen again. We try to allow the bear to find its way naturally out of town, as attempts to capture the bear can pose a risk to the bear and people. 

MH: Did the state stop relocating the bears because of a funding issue? 
CO: No, it was not a funding issue. The issue was that it became apparent that other methods were more effective at resolving human-bear interactions versus relocation.  Also, we found that letting the bear naturally find its own course out of a populated area was better for the bear, as anytime attempts are made to capture a bear, there is greater risk of injury to the bear. 

MH: How much did it cost to relocate a bear?
CO: Again, it was not a funding issue. Rather, letting the bear find its way out was more effective then attempts to capture and relocate. Any costs associated with relocation is primarily in the form of the manpower that would be dedicated to capturing and moving the bear.  We have one biologist for 9-10 counties and capture and relocation would minimally take 2-4 days.   

MH: Where were bears previously relocated to? 
CO: Bears were relocated to NCWRC game lands, but bears often don't stay where they are relocated too. Rather they will immediately attempt to return to the original site of capture. Most relocation occurred at a time when bear population densities were far lower than they are today and many bears were taken to locations that at that time had no bears or very few bears.  Today most all of these places have healthy vibrant bear populations, since bears are primarily solitary animals and prefer space from other bears for most of the year, bears moved to these areas would be far more likely to simply disperse once again and find themselves in a similar situation in a new area or potentially back in the original area.  The best method is to give the bear space and let it continue its quest for a suitable range, generally the bears will find their way safely from the more heavily populated areas and establish ranges in more suitable habitat.


MH: In a statement on the commission's website, it says there are no places to relocate bears in the state.. Why is that? For an average person, it seems there are plenty of places to take bears, can you explain this statement?
CO: Due to the substantial increase in human population growth and human development, there is no place that a bear could be relocated to in which it would not be put in close proximity to people.  Sadly, we do not have remote places left in North Carolina. For instance, subdivisions are built right up to borders of public lands, such as game lands and national forests. In addition, there is no place we can place a bear where it wouldn't encounter other more-established bears; because of this, the relocated bear would leave the area. As mentioned earlier, bears don't usually stay where they are relocated too...they leave the area and try to return to where they were captured. In the process, they will encounter people and roads, making them more vulnerable to mortality, such as getting hit by a car. The other states that still relocate bears often report that these bears become nuisances and/or get hit by cars as they wander back to where they were captured.   

MH: Is there a point where you will relocate a bear, even if it isn't a threat? I'm asking because at least one bear has been spotted several times in the Triad in the past few weeks. Is the animal's safety at risk by staying in an urban area for an extended period of time? 
CO: We will relocate a bear if other methods have failed to help the bear leave a populated area. For instance, in the case of the bear that was treed on A&T campus, myself and other biologists had planned on setting a culvert trap for the bear that was treed on A&T campus if the bear failed to come down from the tree after 2 nights. But, as we have seen countless other times, once people left the bear alone, it crawled down the tree and left. 
One thing to note is that the bear spotted in the Triad may not be the same bear, but rather different bears that are dispersing through. From mid-May through end of June, we get an increase in bear sightings, as yearling bears leave their mother and try to find a home that provides the habitat they need. 
The bear population is doing well in North Carolina and bears coexist with humans across much of the state.  Sure there are issues that must be addressed generally related to damage and general aggravation with bears getting into garbage and bird feeders, but with adjustments in human behavior many of these issues can be avoided.  Since the population is doing well and range expansion continues to occur it will become more common to see bears in places we have never observed them before.  Certainly intercity areas are not suitable habitat for bears but from time to time the bears might find themselves there by accident.  In most situations a little patience and time will allow the bear to find its way out and into more suitable space.  The NCWRC will continue to evaluate every situation and work with local authorities to ensure that public safety is maintained and that the welfare of the particular bear is considered before more aggressive action is taken to remove a bear.

WFMY News 2

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