Become BearWise. That’s the advice N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists are giving now that the weather is warm, and bears are on the move.

Bear sightings throughout the state are increasingly common as more people move into and near bear habitat. While bears are not inherently dangerous and are rarely aggressive toward people, biologists urge people to be cautious and follow the six BearWise Basics to reduce potential conflicts and live responsibly with black bears.

The first BearWise Basic is probably the most critical. Never feed a bear – either intentionally or unintentionally. Feeding bears trains them to approach homes and people for more food. Bears are particularly attracted to human garbage, pet food and other human-associated foods, like bird seed. Bears will defend themselves if a person gets too close, so don’t risk your safety or theirs. People should also:

  • Secure food, garbage and recycling. Food and food odors attract bears so don’t reward them with easily available food or garbage. Bags of trash inside cans stored in a garage, sheds or other secure area; or use garbage cans or trash containers with a secure latching system or that are bear-resistant. Place trash outside as late as possible, on trash pick-up days – not the night before.
  • Remove bird feeders when bears are active. Birdseed and other grains have high calorie content making them very attractive to bears.
  • Never leave pet food outdoors. Feed outdoor pets portion sizes that will be completely eaten during each meal and remove leftover food and food bowl.
  • Clean and store grills. After you use an outdoor grill, clean it thoroughly and make sure that all grease and fat is removed.
  • Alert neighbors to bear activity. See bears in the area or evidence of bear activity? Tell your neighbors and share info on how to avoid bear conflicts. Bears have adapted to living near people; now it’s up to us to adapt to living near bears.

In addition to removing food attractants, residents can:

  • Install electric fencing, which will protect bee hives, dumpsters, gardens, compost piles and other potential food sources.
  • Consider using a bear-resistant trash container.
  • Talk to neighbors and consider becoming a certified BearWise community. BearWise certified communities work together to prevent conflicts between bears and humans.

While black bears, by nature, are not aggressive animals, they can inspire fear, anxiety and even fascination, in people who encounter them. And spring is a likely time to encounter black bears. In April, black bears are emerging from winter hibernation and may be sighted moving through residential areas as they search for food. If left alone, most bears that have wandered into a residential area will quickly retreat to their natural habitat, particularly if no food source is around.

“No matter where you are or where you live, if you encounter a bear, the most important thing to do is leave the bear alone. Don’t try to feed it or chase it off — we can’t stress this enough,” said Colleen Olfenbuttel, the Commission’s black bear and furbearer biologist. “Crowds of people can unnerve a bear, perhaps causing it to act defensively.”

North Carolina’s bear populations are concentrated in the mountains and coastal plain, but sightings sometimes occur in Piedmont towns, usually in May, June and July. This is the time when young bears, called transient bears, are looking for a new home after being pushed away by the adult female bear as she begins breeding again.

“While these young bears, typically males, may appear to be wandering aimlessly around, they are not necessarily lost,” Olfenbuttel said. “Most are simply exploring their new surroundings and will move on, particularly if they are left alone and there is no food around.”

When Commission staff receive a report of a transient bear in an area, they assess the situation to determine if the bear poses a threat to public safety or property, or if the bear is significantly threatened. In almost all cases, the Wildlife Commission advises that the best approach is a hands-off approach, allowing the bear to leave on its own.  

The agency rarely traps and relocates bears. Relocation can be dangerous to the bear, and relocated bears often return to where they were originally captured.

For more information about living responsibly with black bears, visit www.bearwise.org.

For more information about black bears in North Carolina, visit the Commission’s black bear species page.  

For questions regarding bears and other human-wildlife interactions, call the Commission’s N.C. Wildlife Helpline toll-free at 866-318-2401. The call center is open Monday through Friday (excluding holidays) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.