The Town of Highlands is now the first BearWise Certified Community in the state of North Carolina.
Over the last few years, the town has worked hard and been proactive by following BearWise tactics when it came to mitigating human/bear interaction, which often focused around garbage.
The first step was the installation of the metal bear-proof trash containers secured to sidewalks throughout the commercial district.
The second step was requiring homeowners and businesses to use bear-proof trash containers – not as fool proof as the metal containers, nor as expensive, but they do make garbage pickin’ harder for the bears.
The third step was making it illegal in the town’s Code of Ordinances to feed bears.
Those three steps have decreased bear interactions immensely, since it’s easy food the bears are often seeking.
In addition, over the years, the Highlands Bear Task Force made up of volunteers with Cynthia Strain at the helm has educated people about how to live safely with bears and what to do when confronted with one … or two.
Though the town has supported the Bear Wise Task Force and has taken all the necessary steps to become BearWise certified, commissioners had to formally partner with the Bear Task Force to be certified and to commit to educating the public.
That’s what happened during May’s meeting.
“We need to formally acknowledge that we are partnering with the Bear Task Force, and the state’s wildlife people and commit to educating people about what they need to do to minimize human/bear interaction,” said Mayor Pat Taylor.
The town’s educational component will be a webpage accessed from the town’s website that will have all the information and resources needed regarding bear interactions including BearWise safety basics and the Bear Interaction Map.
The map has been up for a while and people have been going to the site to document when and where a bear was sighted, how big he or she was and even if a mama bear was with cubs.
To post a bear sighting, or to see where bears have been lately, click HERE.
There is a Bear Map Disclosure users must agree to before they can proceed. Once agreed, they can click through to the map and continue as a “guest,” or they can sign in as a “user.”
Once on the map, there is a Bear Sighting panel on the right where sightings can be logged.
Being the only BearWise city in North Carolina means Highlands has satisfied the following five steps:
Step 1: Investigate how to become a BearWise Community; find out if bears are in the area and possibly getting into human-provided attractants such as garbage, pet food, and bird feeders; consult with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) staff regarding bear issues in the community.
Step 2: Express interest in becoming BearWise Certified and learn more about the requirements; host meetings to introduce BearWise and discuss certification; request a BearWise presentation from NC Wildlife Resource Commission (NCWRC) staff; and discuss bear issues with neighboring towns.
Step 3: Designate a BearWise Liaison to serve as the point of contact between your community/business and the NCWRC so they can alert neighbors to ways to resolve current issues and report bear incidences if needed.
Step 4: Figure out the best way to implement the requirements to become a BearWise-certified community by identifying and securing all potential food sources and attractants like bird feeders, garbage, pet food, compost piles and any other human-provided attractants; educate community members on how to prevent and respond to human-bear interactions; develop a system to alert community members to non-compliance issues and maintain BearWise-certified practices; establish protocols for when and how to report bear activity to neighbors and the NCWRC.
Step 5: Finally, NCWRC will work with Highlands on signage that can be displayed showing they are BearWise Certified. Mayor Taylor said Ashley Hobbs with the NC Wildlife Resource Commission will be notified that Highlands has completed the five steps.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper
Photo by Brian O’Shea, Plateau Daily News