Patrick Taylor Highlands Mayor
I was recently eating out when someone came our table to tell me the town to do something about the bears around Mirror Lake. I responded I had been talking with Cynthia Strain of the Bear Task Force and was working on several ideas. A few minutes later that same person came back to show me a “cute” photo of a mother bear and her cub sitting on a deck eating from a bird feeder. I almost choked on the chicken wing I was eating. I pointed out that the bear problem begins with folks feeding the bears whether inadvertently or in some cases deliberately, a violation of North Carolina wildlife statues. That same picture of the bear and cub made front page news along with a story narrative reminiscent of a Disney Studios script. The evolving narrative among some folks is that “bears are people too.” My response is no they are not, bears are wild beasts of the woods, and people need to do everything possible to discourage them from residing in town. That means not feeding them. While many of us see bears in the light of personal amusement and good cocktail party conversation, they really belong in the vast wooded areas surrounding Western Carolina communities. It is actually in the best interest of the bears that we discourage them from coming into the town. My proposal is that we “starve and scare” the bears back to where they belong, in the forest. Simply put, do not feed the bears, especially by putting out bird feeders. Some people tell me they only put out the feeders in the day and take them in at night. Bears are smart, they will just come to the bird feeder in the daytime. We still feed birds at our house by throwing out seed in a wide pattern in our front yard. Birds have to work to peck and pickup the small seeds, but bears do not have the ability to do so. Pots and pans and sound devices can be used to scare bears. I am exploring ways to better manage commercial garbage to mitigate the bear problem. Other techniques can be implemented for residential disposal, but if people continue the indulgent behavior of feeding the bears, any community initiative will be for naught. Not feeding bears may be considered harsh, but it is actually for the bears’ benefit. The more they are fed, the more bold they become to where there is an eventual confrontation with humans. On a personal note, as I was headed for work I noticed the door of our SUV wide open. The top center console had been forced open by a bear by breaking the latch. By the way, we never keep food in our vehicle. Highlands has several options ranging from strict enforcement prohibiting feeding bears, to the community embracing as a whole practices that discourage bears. Or, we accept the proposition that bears are a part of living here and do nothing.