Two photos of a black bear have a Jacksonville State University professor feeling hopeful about the bear population.
"The past five years has really started to increase, and I hear that there's a really healthy population of them at Little River Canyon, also," says Dr. Robert Carter, biology professor at Jacksonville State University.
Carter, who often gets photos of bears emailed to him, says the most recent finds came from the Nance's Creek Community, a rural area very close to Jacksonville, Piedmont, and the White Plains community. The photos apparently came from a motion sensor setup.
"That shows us that the bears are coming close to humans, even though we don't really realize it," says Carter.
Carter says black bears were once plentiful in the U.S. and the South in particular, but settlers killed them off, and modern day development threatened their habitats. He says the sightings—which also includes one in Piedmont, two in the Cheaha Wilderness and a couple of wanderers in suburban Etowah County—indicate the bears may not simply be looking for new domain, but may actually represent a population. He thinks they're coming from Georgia.
"People go to the Smokies every year looking for bears, and they turn out that they don't have to go to the Smokies anymore, they can see them around here," says Carter.
Carter says the bears are predators, but not major predators, and mostly eat fruit, berries and nuts. He says they spread the seeds in the process, making them an important part of the area's ecosystem.
Carter says for the most part, bears avoid humans and won't hurt them unless they feel threatened.
"The only time they're really dangerous is if they have cubs with them, and you threaten them, or if they have food and you threaten them. Otherwise, they're really not harmful," says Carter. "The most dangerous thing in the woods is going to be people."
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