To the Editor:
A letter was recently circulated regarding the euthanizing of a black bear in the Mountain Aire community in western North Carolina. That letter apparently spawned a letter to the editor published in the Smoky Mountain News on Oct. 10, 2012, under the heading “Giving bears a second chance.”
This correspondence sets the record straight regarding the original letter. The original letter draws attention to several issues related to feeding and habituating bears to humans and human food. The letter also implies that reasonable alternatives existed regarding the disposition of this bear; and further that North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) staff were unresponsive to the community and simply suggested killing the bear as the simplest way to address nuisance situations. The account presented in the letter is not an accurate depiction of events as they actually occurred.
The letter states that the bear emerged from its winter den and soon discovered human food, perhaps implying that the bear accidentally came across human foods. In reality the bear was fed intentionally by construction workers in the Mountain Aire community, despite the community’s “bear aware” program and other ongoing efforts to coexist with bears.
Bears quickly become habituated to humans under these conditions and this bear was no exception. Having lost its fear of humans, the bear returned regularly and broke into several cars during the month of May, 2012. The NCWRC was contacted by community leaders about the bear and began working directly with them to harass the bear and attempt to discourage it from remaining in the community. The community leaders also addressed the feeding issue with the construction workers.
Those efforts appeared successful at first as the bear disappeared from the community for several weeks. Unfortunately, the bear returned in late June and the NCWRC received a report on June 28th that the bear had damaged the roof of a convertible sports car, reportedly enticed by a pack of gum inside the car. Community leaders stressed that concern among residents was increasing.
On July 30th, the NCWRC was informed that the bear had increased its interactions with humans, having entered homes at least four times and entered or damaged several vehicles. Community leaders and other residents expressed heightened concern and desire for action beyond harassment.
NCWRC staff informed the community that the bear had developed behavior that was inconsistent with normal bear behavior and recommended that the community increase harassment activities and offered assistance to trap and aggressively harass the bear in a final attempt to stop the bear’s behavior.
On August 2nd, the community reported that the bear had entered another residence, removed two pies from the kitchen counter and re-entered the house that night. It was also reported that the bear entered the bedroom while the owners were sleeping. Subsequently, community leaders requested authorization to pursue other options, including euthanasia, as they felt the harassment techniques were not effective.
Several residents in the community began investigating the idea of trapping the bear and placing it in captivity as an alternative to euthanasia. The residents investigated a location in Georgia and indicated that arrangements were in place to take the bear to that location. NCWRC staff contacted officials in Georgia to assess feasibility of this option. We determined that this was not a viable option because neither a transportation permit nor a license to possess the bear would be granted by the State of Georgia. NCWRC staff informed the community that while we did not support trapping a wild bear and placing it in confinement, we did investigate the proposal as requested by the community. Subsequently, NCWRC staff authorized the community to take action as appropriate should the bear return and pose a threat to persons or property.
On August 9th, NCWRC staff discussed with the community specific actions to be implemented should the bear return. The community natural resources director indicated that most residents wanted the bear removed immediately as they viewed it to be a threat. It was also noted that a group of residents had begun to explore the possibility of moving the bear to a pen at Grandfather Mountain.
While this option was being examined, the bear returned to the community. Specifically, the bear appeared near a child’s playground and then approached a condominium on the following day (August 10th). The property owner reported the bear to the community leadership and employees of the community humanely euthanized the bear.
The NCWRC supports the actions of the community as this bear clearly demonstrated threats to persons and property. State law provides private landowners the right to protect their property and their person from damage caused by wildlife. It is unfortunate that human habituation of wildlife often results in the animal’s demise.
Executive Director, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission