Over my first thirty-or-so summers in Montreat, I never saw a bear. This summer alone I’ve seen several, including the little dipper that parked itself in a tree outside our office window the other day. Generally, the number of bear sightings is up around town. Bear-related anxiety seems to be on the rise, too…as is, paradoxically, the desire to spot a bear. Last Sunday’s preacher, tongue in cheek, professed that the family had yet to encounter a bear despite almost 24 hours in the valley. Clearly, bears are a hot topic. What’s actually happening here?
In setting out to answer that question, I discovered, well, pretty much nothing. The bear population could be on the increase. Perhaps a few are particularly habituated to our community’s charms. Perhaps trash is more readily available as summer residency rises. The theory that most appealed to me? Prompted by a mild increase in bear activity, our efforts to spot them and corresponding concerns have increased exponentially.
For the deeply concerned, I found no mention of North Carolina on the Wikipedia page titled List of Fatal Bear Attacks in North America. While the American black bear is abundantly found, it’s still true that they should rarely be considered dangerous. They typically avoid confrontation, and even behavior we might consider a sign of aggression is not always so. Evidently, a black bear standing on its hind legs is sometimes just a black bear standing on its hind legs.
Still, I’ve seen many bears since my first sighting decades ago. The experience leaves an impression and is not for laughing away. Though rarely serious, attacks do occur. The Town of Montreat sent out some helpful information in May. Read it and observe it, and above all, secure your trash. The less hospitality we show our bears the better.
That brings me to our hospitality toward geese. Last year, seven Canada geese joined our community for the warm half of the year. There were problems, many of them deposited along the paths and grassy areas around Lake Susan and the Moore Center field. We concluded that the lake and its surroundings were too small to host the growing gaggle. A company was engaged to conduct a lawful, humane effort to encourage the geese to realize they’d be happier elsewhere. So, if at some point you see a border collie and a goose around the lake engaged in a loud conversation, remember that the border collie has been trained NOT to harm the goose, and his handler is nearby and monitoring the situation. If the dog and handler are successful, the bottoms of your shoes and your picnic blanket will thank you.
Remember this, too. Even if the bears and geese pick up and go, we have plenty of wildlife to ogle. Did you know that Montreat is home to a piebald deer? That’s a fun, safe, and uncommon sight, and I happen to know that the preacher and his family got a very good look at it. Hope you do, too!
President, Montreat Conference Center