Editorial: Let bears run their course
According to Cherokee legend, bears are the keepers of dreams. Rowan residents who spotted a big black bear wandering around their neighborhood earlier this week would no doubt find that fitting. Some must have thought they were dreaming when they spied the burly creature lumbering across the yard or climbing a tree.
Bear sightings are relatively rare in our area. Previous to this week’s, the last widely reported visit occurred four years ago, and as many will recall, it ended sadly when a Thomasville police officer killed “Boo-Boo,” as the bear had been dubbed. But if bear population trends continue, it’s a phenomenon we might as well get used to while familiarizing ourselves with the basic ground rules for bear-human interactions, such as keeping a respectful distance and not offering any easy meals.
The revival of black bear populations is one of the state’s natural success stories, according to wildlife experts. In the country’s early days, black bears roamed across the area that would become North Carolina. With settlement of the state’s interior, however, bear populations declined. By the early 1900s, black bears were found only in the mountains and coastal swamps. A blight that decimated chestnut trees also wiped out a prime item on the bear buffet. Thanks to the designation of bear sanctuaries and more rigorous control of bear hunting, however, the numbers stabilized and expanded. Today, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission estimates the state has approximately 11,000 bears — and counting. While they’re still concentrated in the mountains and coastal refuges, increased bear populations and increased development have resulted in more bears venturing into the midlands and even the middle of towns and cities.
Inevitably, our first reaction to a bear in the backyard is to think someone should do something about it. But wildlife officials say the best course is to let nature run its course and let the bear depart on its own. The N.C. Wildlife Commission website lists several reasons why wildlife officers don’t routinely tranquilize and trap nomadic, or “nuisance,” bears. Typically, wandering bears aren’t a threat to humans, and the number of such sightings makes it unrealistic to drug and haul the animals away (a dangerous process in itself). Besides, the website states, “we have no remote places left to relocate bears where they will not come into contact with humans.”
Such encounters are only likely to increase, even here in the caveless Piedmont. Best learn to bear with it.