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Collisions With Bears Rise on North Carolina Highways

Antionette Kerr

PLYMOUTH, N.C. – As the breeding season begins for North Carolina’s black bears, so does the risk of collisions with the animals on highways in the eastern part of the state.

The Albemarle/Pamlico Peninsula has one of the highest densities of black bears in the world, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. And collisions with black bears there are steadily increasing – from two in 1972 to more than 200 in recent years.

The latest collision happened this week in Washington County.

Wildlife officer Lt. Mark Cagle said drivers should remain alert when traveling through bear country.

“We have bear-crossing signs and things that are up. Just be aware of those zones and to slow down, especially at nighttime,” Cagle said. “A black bear does not show up well on black asphalt, especially at night and especially after rain. There’s more encounters this time of year than other times of the year.”

Cagle said most automobile-bear collisions result in injury or death to the bear.

This week’s collision happened in the early morning hours on U.S. Highway 64 near the town of Plymouth. When this section of the four-lane highway opened in 2004, the state Department of Transportation, with input from the wildlife commission, installed the only black bear overpasses in the state. The overpasses are not currently monitored, so their usefulness in reducing animal fatalities on this major highway is, as yet, undetermined.

Drivers cannot depend on fencing or overpasses to keep bears off the highway. North Carolina Black Bear Museum and Festival director Tom Harrison said educating the public about how to safely enjoy a bear friendly environment is key.

“We just ask drivers to be vigilant when they’re driving through this part of the country that we refer to as ‘Bear-olina,'” Harrison said. “And keep your eye out at night for what may appear to be a black hole in the road which is actually a black bear that is moving across the road. They’re very difficult to see, so just be bear aware.”

If you see a bear on the side of the road or in your backyard, call the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s Help Line at 866-318-2401.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.

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