- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Wildlife biologists say bears in western North Carolina have decided not to wait for the alarm to go off, beginning their ramblings through woods and neighborhoods ahead of schedule.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports (https://avlne.ws/1ZJbO7l) wildlife biologist Mike Carraway of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said bears usually come out the first week of April. But Carraway said officials started seeing the bears in the second week of March, partly because of the recent warm weather.

In addition to the bears showing up early, officials say there are a lot more of them. Carraway said preliminary results from the ongoing Urban/Suburban Bear Study in Asheville show the area’s bear population is growing, The study also shows individual bears are getting fatter and having more cubs because food is so plentiful.

“Bear cubs are already moving around, getting into trash and bird feeders. We’ve started getting calls,” Carraway said.

The population growth has outpaced bear mortality by accidents or hunting and is prompting the state wildlife agency to make changes to bear hunting rules to increase the harvest. In western North Carolina, public hearings on temporary rule changes are scheduled for April 5 and 6.

Public hearings will focus on a proposal to extend to the entire open season the time bears can be taken with the aid of unprocessed food as bait. Natural bait includes any material derived from a plant including nuts, fruits and corn.

Total numbers from the 2015-2016 bear hunting season are not complete, but Carraway said early estimates are that the harvest will be higher than the 2014-15 season, when 634 bears were taken by hunters in western North Carolina.

That was nearly half of the 1,027 harvested the previous season.

This year, Carraway is expecting the number of bears taken during western hunting season to be more than 1,000, closer to the annual average.

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Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, https://www.citizen-times.com

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