ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — It's that time of year when black bears in the mountains begin to bulk up for winter.
Be bear aware: Black bear activity increasing as population prepares for winter months
Bear experts say the next six to eight weeks are a busy time for black bears, with the growing population getting hungrier than usual.
"Typically a bear will put on anywhere from 25 to 50 pounds going into the winter time," says Western North Carolina Nature Center Director Chris Gentile, as he shows off the nature center's two black bears, Ursa and Uno.
The pair are just two of the four-to-6,000 bear in Western North Carolina that will bulk up for the winter. A hotter than average summer means an above average appetite.
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"Typically when it’s hotter out, bears will expend more energy," Gentile explains. "So they will need even more energy then to put on their bodies to make it through a winter."
Asheville resident Sophie Chirico lives in the Haw Creek area. She's used to regular bear activity, even knowing one bear's routine -- it usually includes her trash can.
Chirico keeps a brick on top of her trashcan, but says the bear still manages to get into it.
Black bears at the WNC Nature Center in Asheville, NC - Wildlife officials warn people that black bear activity will be increasing soon as the bears bulk up for the winter months. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)
A recent study by North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission shows the urban bear population in Asheville is growing on several levels.
"Urban bears in Asheville are actually growing more quickly than bears outside of the urban area, and, they’re starting to reproduce at a younger age and have more cubs at an earlier age," says Dr. Graham Reynolds,
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The biology teacher at UNC Asheville attributes the growth to food availability.
"They’re actually growing twice the rate of bears outside of the area," he says. "So, they’re reaching 100 pounds at about two years of age. Anywhere else it’s about 50 pounds at two years of age."
"I guess I’m pretty used to it," says Chirico of her neighborhood bear. "I think they’re cute. I stay away, you know, keep my distance, just watch them from afar."
Both Dr. Reynolds and Gentile urge people to be especially vigilant in containing their trash, keeping birdseed inside and hanging bird feeders out of a bear's reach.