By visiting Highlands you have chosen a spectacular place to explore. Wild animals abound, and you may even encounter a black bear. It used to be that spotting a Black Bear in Highlands was a noteworthy event. Nowadays, if you spend any time in town – in the woods, at a home on the edge of the woods, at one of the country clubs, even on Main Street – you’re bound to run into one. It’s not like they’re seeking out a Close Encounter. It turns out they’re spectacularly uninterested in you. They’re inevitably looking for an overstuffed garbage can, or a generously seeded bird feeder. The last thing they’re looking for is a confrontation with you (and your dog). Having said that, there are some simple steps that you can take to ensure that your Bear Encounter is a simple learning experience for both parties.
It is advisable to take precautions to avoid a confrontation.
Shy and relatively harmless by nature, black bears prefer to not interact with humans. But if food is made available, it doesn’t take long for them to become desensitized, and that is when serious problems can occur. Home and car break-ins, damage to property, and possible injury to people and pets.
SAFETY TIPS FOR HIKING IN BEAR COUNTRY
• Talk or make noise to avoid surprising a bear, especially near rushing water where it may not hear you.
• Stay alert. Don’t hike with ear buds in.
• Keep an eye on the trail ahead.
• Riding mountain bikes can lead to surprise encounters.
• Keep children near.
• Dogs may help detect bears but may aggravate it and get injured, so keep dogs on a leash.
• If you encounter a bear, avoid eye contact and remain still and calm, or slowly begin walking backward.
• Raise your arms (to appear larger) and talk gently while backing away to safety.
• Don’t throw your pack at the bear—that provides a “reward” that teaches the bear to approach people for food.
• Never try to pet or feed a bear or get close for a picture—that is how most injuries occur.
• Hike in groups during daylight and on established trails.
• Learn proper camping techniques to avoid problems.
• Avoid standing between a female bear and her cubs.
If you find yourself in this situation, slowly and calmly walk backwards. For more information, look for the brochure, Hiking and Camping in Bear Country, at the Visitor Center, Hudson Library or Town Hall.
B.E.A.R. (Bear Education and Resources) is a task force of MountainTrue, a nonprofit organization. To volunteer, donate or receive more information, call (828) 526-9227.