Bear sightings on campus prompt warnings from campus officials

Two black bear sightings were reported on campus on Tuesday, Sept. 20, marking the second and third time that a bear had been seen on campus this semester.

In all the occasions, the bears left the campus area and did not come into conflict with the campus population.

“Is not uncommon for bears to wander onto campus this time of year,” said Tammi Hudson, Emergency Manager at WCU.

Both she and Campus Police Chief Ernie Hudson believe that the bears that stray onto campus are searching for food.

“Any food containers should go into a recycling bin or be thrown away,” said Earnie Hudson. “Don’t leave pizza boxes and other trash with food residue laying outside of a dumpster.”

“One reason why we’re seeing more bears on campus than in years past is that food supplies at higher elevations are leaner than they traditionally have been,” said Tammi Hudson.

In the event that a bear is sighted on campus, students are urged to contact University Police and report the sighting. Students should not approach the bear, attempt to take pictures, or follow the bear as black bears can run at speeds up to 35 miles per hour.

“If you encounter a bear, face the bear and back away slowly, do not run away,” said Earnie Hudson. “If the bear approaches, make loud noises and attempt to make yourself appear larger. If the bear continues to approach, throw any available objects at the bear. Never surround or attempt to corner a bear.”

Tammi Hudson stresses the importance of giving bears a wide berth, especially mothers and cubs. She stresses that though it may appear that a mother has left a cub alone, the mother bear is often in close proximity, and will get very agitated if anyone interacts with the cub.

“No matter how cute the cubs are, it is imperative that our students not approach the cubs” she said.

Earnie Hudson also cautions against knowingly feeding wild bears, saying that it can create an expectation in the bear’s mind that any time they approach a human, food will be given. If the person that the bear approaches does not feed it, the bear will often become agitated, and escalate the situation.

Tammi Hudson stressed that all the encounters with bears on campus have been resolved quietly. She was present at the first sighting on Sept. 20. She stated that she saw the bear come out of the woods above The Village, sit up on its haunches and look around. After a minute or so of observation, she said that it appeared that the bear thought better of walking onto campus, and returned to the woods directly behind it.

So far, all bears that have wandered onto campus have avoided populated, active areas, and have gone directly back into the woods. Though University Police has never had to confront a nuisance bear, Earnie Hudson said that there is a response plan in place should a bear need to be forcibly relocated from campus.

Both Hudsons stressed that this was a high improbability however and that if the campus population continued to handle bear sightings calmly and avoided approaching or provoking the bears in any way, there will hopefully never be a need to implement the relocation plan.