Local resident April Smith got a surprise this past Saturday morning when she went to let her dog outside. She was confronted by a mother bear and her cub.
“It’s just kind of scary, letting your dog out and there is a bear in your backyard,” she said. “It was just a total shock.”
This was the second time in two weeks that Smith encountered a bear with her cub. The first was on a hiking trip near Helen, when a mother bear ran toward Smith, who had walked up on her cub.
Additionally, Smith noticed trash that was strewn across her neighbors’ lawns on Thursday, a sign that the bears were still in the area.
Several bear sightings have been reported across North Georgia recently, indicating the animals may be more active this year.
Department of Natural Resources biologist Scott Frazier said the cause is twofold.
“For one, there has been an increase in the bear population, which not only increases their numbers but also their range,” he said. “So, there are people who are unaccustomed to seeing bears who are now seeing them, and those people are more likely to report the sightings.”
Secondly, this year’s harvest of acorns and other nuts was unusually low. At this time of the year, bears change their diet to gain weight for the winter, and acorns are a primary staple of that diet. However, without that food source, bears are searching farther to find food.
According to Frazier, the cause of the lack of acorns is not known, but it could be linked to this year’s unusually wet summer.
Bears are not the only animal to be affected by the acorn shortage. Both squirrels and deer also rely on acorns and have been seen traveling farther to supplement.
According to a press release from the DNR, the best way to prevent bears from coming near yourself and your personal property is to remove any sources of food. Bears are naturally wary of humans, and black bear attacks are rare. But when they learn that there is “free food” in a homeowner’s trash can, it can erode that sense of caution.
“In almost every nuisance bear situation, there is a food source involved,” Frazier said. “As long as the food is available it doesn’t matter to the bear what you are going to do to it.
“Confining food items is paramount to controlling the problem.”
DNR recommends residents keep their garbage cans confined and only put them out the morning of trash collection, not the night before, and to also remove food scraps from grills and fire pits daily, rinse food containers before disposal and wash trash cans regularly.
Bears are omnivores and will frequently eat pet food, bird seed and compost piles.
If you encounter a bear while outside, Frazier suggests that you make your presence known by making noise then slowly backing away while facing the animal, which will help prevent the bear from pursuing you out of curiosity. If a bear is seen from inside the home, you should stay inside and make noise to scare it away.
“Many people have panic buttons on their car keys; use that or an air horn,” he said. “This helps reteach them to be scared of homes.
“Don’t confront the bear, even with a gun. We will charge people who do that with a crime because they were safe in their homes and chose to go out.”
Bear cubs that climb trees when they are scared can cause problems, as they will not come down until they are left alone. If this happens, leave the area, secure any pets and allow the bear time to calm down and flee.
“A lot of people expect the department to come and personally remove the bear, but that is just impossible with the number of bears in the area,” Frazier said. “In order for this to work long term, people need to check their yard and think about possible food sources.”