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Bear encounters more likely than ever, say wildlife officials

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By Madeleine Wright

TRENT WOODS, N.C. -- Human encounters with bears are on the rise here in the East. Wildlife officials say they’ve seen more reports of bear sightings in the last few years than ever before.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission says it’s because the bear and human populations are growing, so there will naturally be more human-bear encounters. Habitat management and stricter rules against bear hunters have also spurred the growth of the bear population, said Jonathan Shaw, a biologist with the Wildlife Resources Commission.

In 1992, there were only 12 reports of bear encounters in eastern North Carolina. The number of reports has grown steadily over the years, and in 2010, there were 90 reports. Most of those encounters are related to bears that have raided residents’ birdseeds or beehives, said Shaw.

In the wild, black bears usually eat berries, insects, clovers, deer fawn, and acorns. But birdseeds and dog food have nutrients too, said Shaw, and bears look for easy meals. Bears have been spotted raiding bird feeders and trash cans for food scraps in people's backyard.

“It’s not uncommon to see a black bear in a residential area,” said Cpt. Richard Venable, a wildlife resources officer.

A week ago in Greenville, 9 On Your Side reported that residents of Williamsbrook Lane spotted two bears climbing a tree. And just this weekend, a bear raided bird feeders on Buckingham Road in Trent Woods.

Christin Grady, a Trent Woods resident who lives on Baron Way, saw a black bear twice in her backyard, where her three young children play.

“It was a little too close for comfort. There are lots of pets and children in the neighborhood, and the bear did not show fear,” said Grady.

Wildlife officials say bears are usually not a threat and are often "just passing through," said Cpt. Venable. He says the best thing to do if you see one is leave it alone.

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