Answer Man: Black bears more aggressive, abundant this year? Does DOT radio work?
Today’s batch of burning questions, my smart-aleck answers and the real deal:
Question: Our online community newsletter in North Asheville is full of aggressive bear stories these days. A mother bear and three cubs were seen on Chatham Road near my house (I live in Jackson Park) this week, and a dog was attacked by the bear. Another post referred to a bear (literally) breaking into someone’s house on Lakeshore. The owner got some bear spray from a hardware store, which contains ammonia, and she was then dinged by others on the site for spraying a semi-lethal spray at the bear. So, my question is — are there more bears out this spring? And are they more aggressive than in the past? What is the protocol for dealing with bears that seem to be getting more aggressive? And weren’t they here first?
My answer: My question is do the bears breaking into house bother with black clothing and masks? Seems a little redundant.
Real answer: First of all, yes, bears were here first.
"When humans first entered North America some 15,000 years ago, bears inhabited every corner of the continent," we learn from blackbearinfo.com, an educational site. "The grizzly bear thrived in all western states, ranging as far south as Mexico and as far north as the tip of Alaska. Related to the grizzly bear, but with certain behavioral, morphological, and physiological differences, the smaller black bear roamed North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Mexico to the northern edges of the continent."
Bears, like a lot of other American wildlife, were hunted heavily in the 1700s and 1800s, devastating their population. But they have rebounded nicely due to conservation efforts.
"Though black bears have not reclaimed all of their original range across North America, their populations have rebounded to an estimated 800,000 bears in 37 states and Canada," blackbearinfo.com states.
The mountains of Western North Carolina have an estimated 6,000 bears, and that includes a sizable number that are active within the city of Asheville. A recent, multi-year North Carolina Urban/Suburban Bear Study resulted in the tagging of more than 150 bears in or near the city limits, according to Mike Carraway a wildlife biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Bear activity and numbers are not any higher than normal around here this spring, Carraway said.
"We have got a lot of bears out there who are very comfortable being around people in Asheville," Carraway said.
Regarding bear spray, Carraway said products specifically marketed as bear spray usually contain some variety of the active ingredients in hot peppers, not ammonia. And he's not aware of any of it being "lethal" or even "semi-lethal."
The key issue in the reader's question, Carraway said, is the presence of dogs. Bears do not like dogs, and dogs often get really aggressive around bears — and that's a dangerous combination.
"You've got to understand if a dog is running loose and it goes after a bear, that bear is going to react to that," Carraway said. "And the thing with dogs is, the dogs are usually the ones that are the aggressors. Dogs will come running, barking, growling, and the bear is going to react to it, particularly if it has cubs."
The only way to avoid this scenario, he said, is to keep your dogs on leashes or in a fenced yard. Of course, if bears come in the fenced yard, you've got a problem.
Carraway does not recommend fighting a bear mano-a-paw-o, but he leaves that up to a dog owner.
"Obviously, a person doesn't want to put their life in danger to save a dog going after a bear, but it’s up to the individual to decide what he's going to do in that situation," Carraway said. "I would suggest carrying a noise deterrent like an air horn."
Bear spray is effective, and an air horn can startle a bear enough to scare it off.
Also, a hand-held Taser can be effective, although again, Carraway does not recommend getting close enough to physically zap the bear.
"The Taser makes an electric spark bears don’t like," Carraway said. "Most bears have had some sort of negative interaction with an electric fence before. And that's another thing that works — you can put a couple of strands of electric fencing around the back yard. That's a pretty good deterrent."
By the way, bears have good food sources this year but they still love human food, garbage and bird feeders — and they become most active between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Absolutely do not feed bears, as you're creating a problem, and secure or remove trash cans and bird feeders.
Question: One night last week, I was driving down I-40. I passed a large sign that
read, "For Traffic Info Tune to 530 AM." I was curious, so I tuned to 530
AM on my radio. (Yes, I am one of the old-timers that still knows what
AM radio is...sigh.) Guess what? I didn't hear a thing. Do those radio
transmitters even still work?
My answer: You should get Clara to place a party line call to the DOT for an answer.
Real answer: "Concerning the sign which asks folks to tune to 530 AM radio for traffic information; the sign actually reads, “TRAFFIC INFO TUNE TO 530 AM URGENT MESSAGE WHEN FLASHING," said Mark Gibbs, division maintenance engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Asheville office. "Therefore, the only time a message will be broadcasting is when the beacon on the sign is flashing, which would usually require traffic to take an alternate or detour route."
This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 232-5847 or email@example.com