Researchers study black bears living in Asheville, western NC - FOX Carolina 21

Researchers study black bears living in Asheville, western NC

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The collar used for the bear study. (May 14, 2014/FOX Carolina) The collar used for the bear study. (May 14, 2014/FOX Carolina)
ASHEVILLE, NC (FOX Carolina) -

A major black bear study is underway in Asheville in order for researchers to better learn how bears survive and thrive in urban areas.

Hundreds of bears will be fitted with GPS collars for the next four years to study their presence in Asheville, which is a growing city in the middle of the Appalachians and a prime habitat for black bears.

As part of the study, dozens of culvert traps are being placed across Asheville to help in tracking the bears' urban habits.

North Carolina State University wildlife researcher Nick Gould said a lot of the traps are in people's backyards, and they have already caught quite a few bears in them. Once the bear is captured, they are tranquilized. Then the team moves to tag the bear.

"We put a collar on. We give it unique ear tags," Gould said. "We give it a lip tattoo and take other body measurements. It usually takes an hour."

The bear is placed back into the culvert, where it will wake up and be released. Researchers are trying to keep GPS collars on 40 bears at a time.

The two-pound collars have a piece of cloth on them that biodegrades after a while or researchers can remotely have the collars fall off by changing a setting. The collar will stay on a bear for anywhere from six months to a year.

"It's the Appalachians down here. They're beautiful," Gould said. "It's a good bear habitat, and people also like to live here."

A lot of people like the idea of living among the black bear population, and as Asheville and other surrounding mountain towns and cities continue to thrive, researchers hope the study will help ensure the black bear population also continues to thrive.

"[The goal is] making sure people are living with them correctly," Gould said, "trying to reduce the amount of conflict between bears and humans."

There are a few simple things residents can do to prevent bears from wandering so closely to their homes: Wait to put the trash out until the morning it's supposed to be picked up; remove bird feeders in the spring, summer and fall; and don't leave your pet's food outside.

Wildlife officials said there are an estimated 7,000 bears in western North Carolina, and they hope to have a better understanding of what they are eating, where they are visiting, understand more about their reproduction and mortality patterns in urban areas through this research.

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