ASHEVILLE - Starting next year, city residents will see many of the black bears popping up in Asheville backyards and neighborhoods sporting the latest in wildlife bling - tagging collars.
The N.C. Wildlife Commission will launch the Urban/Suburban Bear Study in Asheville in the spring, the first study of its kind in the state. The booming black bear population is part of the impetus for the Asheville study, one of the changes to the new black bear management plan that will be discussed at public meetings taking place this month. The next meeting will be Wednesday in Clyde.
"We will be discussing the 2012-2022 Black Bear Management Plan, possibly lengthening the bear hunting season in some areas, including some areas that don't currently have a bear hunting season, discussion of the inequities of bear hunters releasing hounds versus still hunters using unprocessed food product bait," said Geoff Cantrell, wildlife commission spokesman.
"I think we'll also be hearing from people about seeing bears more often and being sighted in populated areas. Everyone is invited to the meetings, not just hunters."
The state's first bear management plan was created in the early 1980s, said commission black bear biologist Colleen Olfenbuttel, with the goal at that time of increasing and restoring the badly decimated black bear populations. But times have changed wildly in the lives of black bears in the past 30 years, and biologists realized it was time to revisit the plan.
Olfenbuttel and other biologists finished the new management plan last year and have been holding public meetings to discuss the changes with the public, she said.
Bears on the rebound
By the 1960s, North Carolina's once-thriving black bear population was reduced to an estimated 2,000-4,000 bears, and they were nonexistent in the Piedmont, Olfenbuttel said. The reduction had come from centuries of unregulated hunting, habitat decimated from intensive logging in the early 20th century and the chestnut blight of the 1930s and '40s.