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Bears under your house? North Carolina expert says it can happen and what you can do

(WGHP) — Now that spring is officially here, black bears in North Carolina will be emerging from their dens soon, but many are still in their winter homes and could be closer than you might think.

“When people think of dens, they always think of caves,” said Justin McVey, a district wildlife biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. “That’s not really the case.”

Bears can be very resourceful when making their dens. In the wild, bears often use rock and tree cavities or holes under fallen trees for their dens or ground nests. But McVey says that bears have been denning under houses, crawlspaces and decks more often over the last 10 years. Bears have even been known to sleep in backyard brush piles.

  • Bear den under house (NC Wildlife)
  • Bear den (NC Wildlife)
  • Bear den (NC Wildlife)

“When I started out here 12 years ago, I may have gotten one or two calls about it. … Now, we probably hear about 10-15 of those cases. And, depending on the time of year, sometimes we’ll kick them out, … sometimes we won’t.”

McVey says they avoid kicking out mother bears who have cubs as the cubs are not yet old enough to be on their own.

“The fun part of the job is to convince a homeowner that it’s OK to have a bear under their house,” McVey said.

In McVey’s experience, homeowners are often fine with having bears under their homes after they learn cubs are unlikely to survive if separated from their mother and that bears spend large amounts of time sleeping.

“Sometimes, you get homeowners who want to put cameras down there and monitor the progress,” McVey said. “I’ve never had a homeowner yet when I advise that we need to leave it … say, ‘No. Absolutely not.’ They’ve all been understanding.”

If a bear has to be kicked out of a home, the NCWRC will use a variety of methods until one works.

“It can be as easy as just turning on radios … and turning on lights,” McVey said. “When bears den up underneath decks, … we can run a water hose on top of the deck and let it drip down. … Other times, we have to use pyrotechnics. … Sometimes, just yelling at the bear from the other side of the house is enough to get them to go on. … We have special firecrackers that we use that flash and bang and make a whole lot of racket.”

When the bears leave, NCWRC officials seal up the den and advise homeowners.

Female bears usually leave their dens around late March and early April after a months-long hibernation period that often starts in December.

What should I do?

Black bears are typically shy, not aggressive towards humans and will avoid confrontation unless fed or provoked.

If you see a den in the wild, the NCWRC urges you to stay calm, leave the den alone and leave the area.

If you find a den under your deck, shed or crawl space, leave the area and call the N.C. Wildlife Helpline at (866) 318-2401 or get in contact with your district wildlife biologist. 

If you see a cub, note where you saw it and contact the N.C. Wildlife Helpline or contact your district wildlife biologist.

The NCWRC does not trap and relocate bears, and the agency wants people to know what they can do to avoid interacting with them:

  • Do not feed a bear or get close to one
  • Do not leave pet food out
  • Do not put out a bird feeder while the bears are active
  • Make sure your garbage is secured
  • Clean and store your grill
  • Tell a neighbor if you see a bear

NCWRC co-founded the website BearWise to provide information about living responsibly with black bears.

Source: Fox 8 News Channel

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