Bears oh my!
If you are out and about around the Northeast Georgia area and its several lakes, chances are you will happen upon some form of native wildlife.
While the most common wildlife people encounter in this area is deer, it is not uncommon to encounter foxes, racoons, coyotes and even bobcats. However, none seems to compare with the uptick of human encounters with the region’s native black bear.
Kevin Lowrey, wildlife biologist for the Northeast Region office of the Georgia Department of Natural resources, said that wildlife populations tend to be cyclical; with levels rising and falling any given year due to climate patterns, drought and the overall health of the ecosystem. This year the region appears to be in a high cycle.
2018 marks the largest increase in human/bear encounters in recent memory. According to Lowrey, this past summer was one of the worst seasons for bear-related complaints.
Undeveloped lands bordering areas of rapid development have set the stage for more human/bear interaction. Bears are highly adaptable creatures that take advantage of easily available food supplies. With human population booming around areas such as the Chattahoochee National Forest, increased encounters are virtually a certainty.
Lowrey says the best way for people to decrease the chances of unwanted visitors — bears or otherwise — is to manage household garbage and pet food.
Keep outside food in bear-proof containers, or better yet, store inside. Make sure all garbage cans are tamper-proof and lids remained closed. If you feed your pets outside, do not make a habit of leaving large amounts of food unattended. Put out only the amount of food your pet will eat at one time.
Items such as bird feeders need to be emptied during active bear season as well.
Lowrey said one of the biggest ‘bear attracter’ items is one most homeowners don’t think about: the grill.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of really nice grills completely destroyed by a bear,” Lowery said. “That grease trap is a huge attraction.”
If you have to store your grill outdoors, experts advise thoroughly cleaning the grill and grease trap after each use.
If you do encounter a black bear, Lowrey says the most important thing to remember is not to panic. He says to back away slowly, make yourself as big as possible and make a lot of noise.
“Make sure the bear is aware you are there,” he says. “In most cases, that’s all you have to do, and they’ll run off. There is an occasional chance of that stubborn bear that might not, but, generally, if they smell you or see you, they’re gone.”
The black bear is the only bear found in our region and is a high-priority species in the Georgia Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive conservation strategy. At one time, the black bear was the most common bear in North America, but the species was nearly wiped from existence in Georgia in the 1930s due to unregulated hunting, poaching, and on-going large-scale habitat loss.
According to the Georgia DNR Wildlife division, sound management practices have restored Georgia’s black bear population to an estimated 5,100 bears statewide.
Black bears may legally be hunted during the season, which occurs each fall in certain areas and runs concurrently with deer season. Certain areas have seasons of bear-only hunts as well. Hunters may take both male and females; however, sows with cubs are off limits, as are cubs under 75 pounds.
Bear hunting during any other time of the year, or the taking of bears illegally during the hunting season is considered poaching.
For in-depth information on bear zones, season dates and all other bear-hunting regulations, visit georgiawildlife.com/hunting/regulations.
Visit http://gadnrle.org/ranger-hotline for details on how to report poaching or other illegal activity.
Keeping Bears Out of Neighborhoods and Yards
While there is no way to prevent a bear from wandering into a neighborhood, there are ways to discourage it from staying:
Never feed a bear. Keep items such as grills, pet food and bird feeders off-limits to bears. Clean and store grills when not in use. Keep pet food indoors and take down bird feeders (April-November) when bears are active in your area.
Use “bear-proof” garbage containers, or store garbage in the garage or other enclosed area until the morning of pick-up day.
Properly securing food and garbage prevents bears from accessing these non-natural, human-provided food sources, and helps avoid the unhealthy process of habituation that occurs when bears obtain food from people and begin associating humans with food.
If a bear is sighted in your neighborhood, here are some tips on how to respond:
Leave all bears alone. Usually they are only passing through an area.
Stay a safe distance away. Do not try to approach a bear.
Never, under any circumstances, intentionally feed a bear.
Never attempt to ‘tree’ or corner a bear as it compromises the safety and welfare of both the public and the bear.
“Unless there is evidence of aggressive behavior or habituation to people, there is no cause for alarm,” said Adam Hammond, state bear biologist with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. “More and more, we are seeing bears show up and frequent areas outside of what we typically think of as ‘traditional bear range.’ Bears sighted during the winter months are most likely bears that have overwintered in the immediate area and have established their home range nearby. Bears are extremely adaptable wild animals and readily adjust their diet and habits to take advantage of non-natural, human-provided foods. Our directive to people is simple — make similar minor adjustments to your habits and lifestyle to live responsibly with bears.”