Local News

Growing Black Bear Population a Factor in Recent Sightings

Posted June 28, 2007 7:14 p.m. EDT

— A growing black bear population means an increase in the number of sightings in urban areas, according to a state wildlife expert.

Earlier this week, police received a report of a 300-pound black bear running by a school playground in Goldsboro. It took wildlife officials about 10 hours to track down the animal and tranquilize it before returning it to its natural habitat near the coast.

"I think he was more scared and confused," Goldsboro Police Maj. Michael Hopper said. "I think he wanted to get back to safety."

Police officers kept their distance, but followed the bear as he crossed city streets and walked into some yards.

"Once people get up and stirring and get to moving around, that's when it really concerns us," Hopper said.

Wildlife experts estimate about 11,000 black bears in North Carolina, with approximately 7,000 living in the eastern part of the state in forests near the coast.

Hopper said his department receives a bear call about every four or five years, but in the past week, there have been similar reports of black bears in residential areas in Rocky Mount, Greensboro and High Point. And last year, one walked into Tarboro and climbed up a tree.

"The bear would rather be anywhere but an urban area," said Mark Jones, a biologist specializing in black bears for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. "He's not intentionally coming into an urban area. He doesn't know it's an urban area."

Jones said that during this time of year, young male bears make long treks away from where they were born this time of year. An animal, like the one spotted in Goldsboro, likely walked 100 miles or more, he said.

A population surge in the 1990s has since leveled off in core habitat areas, such as the coast, but bears are now showing up in the Piedmont, Jones said.

"At one time, bears were found throughout all of North Carolina," Jones said. "They were wiped out in the central part of the state 100 years ago -- give or take a few years. They are moving back into that unoccupied habitat now."

Eastern North Carolina has also seen an increase in bear hunting to help control the population.