LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
There are bears - black bears in the woods around Asheville, N.C. They're also strolling through backyards, sometimes raiding bird feeders, helping themselves to dog bowls or tipping over trash cans and doing a lot of this right now as they pack on the pounds before winter - bears basically being, you know, bears.
Three years ago when Janet Winemiller and her husband moved to Asheville, they were surprised to see black bears going about their business like this. She's since grown to love them and is now an ambassador for Bearwise, a program that teaches people how to coexist with bears. Janet Winemiller joins us now from the studios of WCQS in Asheville to tell us all about it.
Thank you for joining us.
JANET WINEMILLER: Thank you for inviting me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what led you to become a part of Bearwise?
WINEMILLER: Well, my husband and I are vegetarians, and so we have a soft spot just naturally for animals, and the bears just kind of fit right in there. And then when I moved to Asheville and started becoming aware of the issues with the attractants - the bird feeders, the trash, pet food, you know, just a lot of things that could be prevented - and then I became aware of the Bearwise program. And I was asked if I would be interested and, of course, I was.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In other places, people would call animal control to remove the bears. I mean, I come from Florida. You see alligators. There's special people that come and remove the alligators. How does this program of coexistence work?
WINEMILLER: You know, it's education. The bears - they are looking for any type of food source. So the best thing to do is just to try and maintain your home without having those attractants so the bears eat the things they're supposed to - the acorns and the nuts and the berries - and stay wild. I really think that's ideally what we need. This is their territory, and we are living in their territory.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, how big is the black bear population around Asheville? Do you know?
WINEMILLER: It's pretty big. From what I understand - western North Carolina area, there's high numbers.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how do they act when they are confronted by humans? How dangerous are they?
WINEMILLER: They pretty much don't want anything to do with you as you want to do with them. My husband and I - we've been within feet of them. We did get caught red-handed. He was helping me in the garden plant some plants, and we had our heads down and focused on what we were doing and just chatting away. And suddenly, he stood up, but he was facing me. And then I stood up, and I was facing the other way. And I just said, oh, there's a bear.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you all - what are you supposed to do when you are confronted with a bear?
WINEMILLER: Well, you're supposed to keep your distance, you know, best you can, but sometimes that's not always possible. He was within, like, 6, 8 feet of us, just watching - I think curious what we were doing. They say don't look them in the eye, but my husband and I were looking at this bear, and he was looking at us. They say try and make yourself look big, you know?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Puff up.
WINEMILLER: Yeah, exactly. Eventually, the bear just moved away, so we were able to get, you know, up to the house. We were kind of high-fiving ourselves even that, you know, there was no panic moment. It was just kind of like, OK.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, so what are the dangers for bears when they come into where humans are?
WINEMILLER: Well, I think there's been some conflicts, and so immediately the bears are the ones that are at fault when it's not necessarily their fault. They're just doing what bears do. I think, you know, we just have to make sure that we don't give them the opportunity to provide those conflicts. And so we have special bear-proof trash cans people can obtain. My husband and I have one. And we've had bear marks on it and slobber, but they can't get into it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Janet Winemiller, Bearwise ambassador in Asheville, N.C. Thank you very much.
WINEMILLER: Well, thank you.
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