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The black bear is the only bear found in Georgia in the wild. With Whitfield and Murray counties being situated among mountains and forests, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a black bear in its natural habitat.

Now as spring brings warmer temperatures, bears are coming out of their winter hibernation in search of food. You may have seen a bear in your backyard or along a mountain road.

“Upon emerging from hibernation and leaving their winter dens, bears are ready to find food, and that can sometimes put them a little too close to people,” said Adam Hammond, bear biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division. “As good wildlife stewards, we can help keep bears from getting too close to our homes and our businesses by becoming ‘BearWise’ and learning to live responsibly with bears.”

BearWise is an education program developed by state bear biologists (www.bearwise.org) that offers information and awareness tips starting with the “Six At Home BearWise Basics”:

Never feed or approach bears: Feeding bears (intentionally or unintentionally) trains them to approach homes and people for more food. Bears will defend themselves if a person gets too close, so don’t risk your safety and theirs.

Secure food, garbage and recycling: Food and food odors attract bears so don’t reward them with easily available food or garbage.

Remove bird feeders while bears are active: Birdseed and other grains have a high calorie content making them very attractive to bears. The best way to avoid conflicts with bears is to remove feeders.

Never leave pet food outdoors: Feed outdoor pets portion sizes that will be completely eaten during each meal and then remove leftover food and food bowl. Securely store these foods so nothing is available to bears.

Clean and store grills: After you use an outdoor grill, clean it thoroughly and make sure that all grease and fat is removed. Store cleaned grills and smokers in a secure area that keeps bears out.

Alert neighbors to bear activity: Share news with your friends and neighbors about recent bear activity and how to avoid bear conflicts. Bears have adapted to living near people. Are you willing to adapt to living near bears?

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