Conflicts between humans and wildlife aren’t unusual. As we humans expand our natural habitat into habitat that was formerly reserved for the native wildlife like black bears, whitetail deer and numerous other forms of wildlife. Conflicts have become inevitable and this is causing problems with our wildlife management organizations that are here to serve both the needs of the citizens who hire them and the wildlife they’re bound to conserve. Throw sport hunters and animal rightists into this environmental equation and you have a problem that sometime has our wildlife managers pulling their hair out in frustration.
There in no better example of one of these conflicts that is now facing our wildlife management experts than the growing population of black bears in North Carolina. It’s not exactly a new problem either. It’s just growing bigger by the year as the population of black bears seems to be expanding nearly as rapidly as the human population here in North Carolina.
Even our Capitol City of Raleigh has problems with bears in the city and this dates back into the mid-1960s.
I was going to work in Raleigh during that period and at about 5:30 one morning I was astounded to see several Raleigh Police cars with blue lights flashing as they seemed to be chasing something down Hillsboro Street. The action came to a standstill in front of the Chancellors residence at N.C. State University and I stopped to see what was going on. The police had cornered a black bear of about 250 pounds in front of the Chancellors house and were waiting for the wildlife folks to come and tranquilize the animal so it could be escorted out of town.
Today there are even more incidents of black bears venturing into North Carolina cities in search of food. I’m told that there are about seven or eight bear incidents a year now in Raleigh and the men with the tranquilizer guns and having a time keeping up with the nuisance bears that so many animal lovers seem to think are cute.
If you think that the nuisance bear problem is limited to the city folks, you’re wrong. Our expanding population of black bears is becoming a real problem with many of North Carolina’s farmers. It seems that the bears have developed a real taste for wheat, peanuts, sunflowers and the old standby black bear favorite food, sweet corn. These omnivorous animals seem to have the idea of, “if it taste good, eat it.”
The Down East County of Beaufort if one of the leading counties in the record books for the number of black bears killed every year by hunters. Where some years ago the bear population was nearly wiped out, good wildlife management procedures were started and the bear population has expanded dramatically over the past thirty years or so. As the bear population grew larger the hunting season was lengthened to where Beaufort County (and a lot of other N.C. Counties as well) have a liberal bear hunting season and still the bears seem to be increasing in numbers. Counties that have not seen any bears to amount to much for years are now experiencing a hunting season for bear and local farmers are experiencing crop damages like they’ve never seen before.
The wildlife laws and regulations clearly allows farmers who are having problems with bear depredation are allowed to shoot and kill these nuisance bears without having a permit. Chris Turner a NCWRC Wildlife Biologist for several eastern counties states that farmers who are having problems with bear eating or damaging their crops have the right to kill these nuisance bears to protect their valuable crops and that they do not have to have a permit or license to do so.
The same thing applies to nuisance deer on farmer’s crops. The only thing is that once a nuisance animal is killed in the field its carcass must be disposed of in the immediate area or left in the field to decay. Once the animal is down and dead it can’t be skinned and cleaned for human consumption and no part of the animal is to be removed. Even if left in the field Turner says that even then the vultures that will feed on the rotting carcass often cause crop damage too so it is advised to bury the animal’s remains.
Even though it’s not a requirement for a farmer to notify the wildlife authorities that he’s going to destroy a nuisance bear, it is advisable to do so.
Some farmers who are having problems with nuisance bears down east are avid bear hunters themselves and hate to have to kill the hungry bears even though it’s perfectly legal to do so if the animals are destroying their crops.
This holds true for not only bears but deer and other forms of wildlife as well. Farmers with deer in their peanut fields on Halifax and Northampton Counties routinely kill hundreds of deer every year to protect their crops. Other peanut farmers I know of have turned the excess deer into a cash crop by charging hunters for the right to hunt and kill the excess deer during the hunting season. It may be at least a partial solution to the black bear problem that’s swiftly developing if the farmers can allow truly responsible hunters to purchase these hunting rights and help to control the excess bears.