North Carolina’s Decades-Long Bear Hunting Ban in Three Sanctuaries Overturned

by TK Sanders
(Photo by: Peter Zenkl/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The North Carolina wildlife resources commission just overturned a decades-long ban on bear hunting in three sanctuaries. The move has since drawn substantial criticism from local residents and animal rights groups.

What to know

  • Bear hunting in North Carolina was banned in the early 1970s
  • The law comes in response to more human-bear encounters
  • Animal rights advocates believe more education can reduce encounters and negate the need for hunting

The three sanctuaries are comprised of 92,500 acres of mountain and forest land set aside specifically to preserve the local black bear population. Thousands of people in surrounding areas signed petitions against the new law, but it appears that it will go on as planned. Bear hunting will open up later in 2022.

The sanctuaries affected are Panthertown-Bonas Defeat, Standing Indian, and Pisgah Bear. Bear hunting has been banned in all three since 1971. Since then, the population of black bears grew from less than 1,000 to an estimated 25,000 thanks to the preservation efforts. Recently, though, the US Forest Service, the federal agency that oversees America’s 154 national forests, requested an end to the ban due to increased human-bear interactions.

The state’s resource commission then voted in favor of the measure in late February in defiance of opponents who say hunting will not reduce human-bear encounters.

“It will definitely not target the actual bears involved in the original complaint of ‘increased bear-human interactions’,” said Bill Lea, a retired US Forest Service assistant district ranger. “Instead, the plan will target many of the younger bears who have just started life on their own away from their mothers and who have not yet developed the skills to elude the packs of vicious dogs and hunters.

“The indiscriminate killing of bears never addresses the problem of individual bear behavior.”

Thousands oppose the North Carolina bear hunting law

A petition which garnered about 8,000 signatures claims it is mostly humans who are to blame for bear encounters.

“We as humans need to address and acknowledge that our actions are changing bear behavior and causing conflicts. Managing our habits, understanding how they impact bears, and adjusting our activities will solve bear-human conflicts. Not hunting,” the petition said.

Animal protection groups said proper storage of food and scented items would almost certainly reduce encounters. They also advocate for better education for hikers and park visitors.

“North Carolina cannot hunt its way out of human-bear conflicts as an excuse for a trophy,” Kitty Block, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said. “Black bears are slow to reproduce and susceptible to overkill from both legal hunting and poaching. They provide vast benefits to their ecosystems, and destroying them instead of implementing proper solutions, is a disaster.

“If black bears are to survive and thrive, we must learn to adapt and share our world with them.”

Black bears are a native species to both U.S. coasts and parts of Canada. The bears can weigh up to 660 lbs, and typically stay away from humans; but they can develop a taste for human food if they can easily access it.