Bear encounters near campus concern locals

Nicholas Strauss
News Staff Writer
[email protected]
Students and local residents living near UNC Asheville reported coming face-to-face with bears, a common encounter in urban areas, according to Justin McVey, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologist.
“There are a lot of interactions. Last year, I got 600 calls about bears, mostly in Asheville and Black Mountain,” McVey said. “I get calls every day, all day about bears.”
Bears often appear on campus near unsuspecting students. The idea of being so close to the creatures concerns some locals. Sydney Bucklin, a sophomore marketing student, experienced firsthand what it was like to stumble upon a local bear.
“I saw a bear by the freshman parking lot on my way from Overlook on Tuesday,” Bucklin said. “I could’ve been mauled. That was my main concern, just thinking, ‘god, what a pathetic way to die that would be.’ I’d rather not be left for dead.”
Despite the perceived dangers, incidents rarely happen, aside from the occasional scare. McVey said there is little cause for alarm.
“Zero casualties, that’s what we’re seeing realistically. The simple fact is that we’re dealing with black bears, not grizzlies,” McVey said. “They don’t see us as food, they see our trash and bird seed as food. There have only been a few isolated incidents, which happened in the Great Smoky National Park.”
Areas near campus such as student apartments have multiple bears, according to University Place property manager Donna Shuford.
“We’ve got bears like crazy. I’ve seen a cub and a mother just roaming the parking lots,” Shuford said. “One time I was on the phone, then I heard something and looked. The bear was only 20 feet away. I had to yell at a young man who didn’t see him. He almost ran straight into where the bear was standing.”
At University Place, certain safety precautions aim to protect residents from black bears.
“You can’t leave trash out by your door or anywhere else near the building if you live here,” Shuford said. “They mainly like trash and we need to keep them away from the places where people are going to be.”
Some new residents said the idea of living near bears does not bother them.
“My friend sent me pictures of the bears a few times last year. I figure it signifies a connection with nature. The bears don’t worry me,” said Joshua Wood, a sophomore student who lives at University Place.
Residents and visitors are advised by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, if found in the general area of a bear, they should not antagonize or approach it and instead back away slowly. If confronted, it is advised to make yourself seem bigger by raising your hands and yelling at the bear, which should make it run away.
“Bears are definitely faster than you, so do not startle one and run away,” McVey said. “If you see a bear, get to safety and call the authorities.”