HomeOutdoorsNewsAmerica Has Its First ‘BearWise’ College After Campus Adapts to Prevent Human-Bear Conflicts

America Has Its First ‘BearWise’ College After Campus Adapts to Prevent Human-Bear Conflicts

by Jon D. B.
North American black bear in North Carolina
A Black Bear is seen in a field at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, November 8, 2017, in Manns Harbor, NC. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Welcome to North Carolina’s high country, home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, black bears, and America’s first BearWise-certified campus.

Lees-McRae College of Banner Elk, NC is now the only BearWise campus in the United States, thanks to their fantastic work with the nationally-recognized program. Through years of proactive action to prevent human-bear conflicts, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) biologists would recognize Lees-McRae as stewards of BearWise knowledge. Specifically, the college excels at creating a BearWise college, which, if you’ve spent time on any campus, you know is no small feat.

“By becoming a recognized BearWise campus, Lees-McRae College is addressing the human-bear conflicts occurring on campus, which will help keep bears wild and students, faculty and staff safe,” Wildlife Commission Black Bear and Furbearer Biologist Colleen Olfenbuttel announced in a Januar press release.

“It is also significant as Lees-McRae College prides itself on giving back to the community,” she lauds, adding that “becoming BearWise will serve as a regional model for how to live responsibly with bears in the High Country of North Carolina.”

The campus truly has set an extraordinary example. As local ABC 13 News reports, Lees-McRae College officials manage their bear attractants by:

  • Rearranging trash receptacles to minimize access for bears
  • Phasing in bear-resistant trash receptacles around campus
  • Purchasing trash compactors to minimize garbage in dumpsters
  • Replacing dumpster lids with a sturdier metal option to keep bears out

In addition, the college is already committing to implementing further reporting procedures for bear sightings and interactions. But what does BearWise mean for the rest of us?

What is BearWise? How to Become a Responsible Wildlife Steward

If you are unfamiliar with BearWise, it is a national education program which encourages us humans to live responsibly with black bears. Founded by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the program “was developed by a bear biologist in the Southeast, and the thought behind it is to have a consistent message from one area to another,” explains Great Smoky Mountains National Park‘s lead wildlife biologist, Bill Stiver, to me in our National Parks Journal.

“We want people to see the same, correct information so there’s less confusion with bears in bear country,” Bill adds. As a result, BearWise has become the foremost, leading program in streamlining crucial information concerning black bear encounters, conflicts, and survival for both humans and bears.

BearWise is spreading nationwide for this exact reason. The National Park Service has embraced it at large, with the Smokies and Stiver as outspoken proponents. The program is more crucial now than ever, too. In Bill’s three-plus decades with the park, the black bear population has grown from 500 bears to 1,900 bears.

“In that same timeframe, our visitation has gone from 8.5 million to 14.1 million. And if you look at growth around the park, the number of permanent residence in Sevier County alone has doubled,” he cites.

In short, BearWise is as crucial for U.S. national park visitors as it is those living (or schooling) in bear country. To become BearWise yourself, be sure to see our National Parks Journal: How to Be BearWise with Great Smoky Mountains’ Lead Wildlife Biologist next.