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How do you live safely around bears? Ask the Black Bear Project.

How do you live safely around bears? Ask the Black Bear Project.

Something interesting is happening in the wooded hills of northern Georgia. Thanks to the Black Bear Project, people and bears are learning to peacefully live together and avoid dangerous situations.  NANPA member Mary Jo Cox has been involved in this project and gave us the story.

What prompted this project?

We live in a mountain community with over 2,000 homes, about an hour north of Atlanta. We are noted as a Wildlife Sanctuary, in that we have firm covenants that protect all wildlife. Fines are levied for any type of feeding of wildlife (from bird feeders, to leaving trash outside, to keeping dog food in garages).

Five years ago, we had a family of bears breaking into houses and getting close to people. They were not afraid of people. The bears were eventually trapped in an inhumane trap, where one of the cubs was killed. The Sow went crazy seeing her cub killed so the entire family of bears had to be euthanized. The residents in our neighborhood were very upset about the situation and wanted to do something to prevent this from happening again. So, the Black Bear Project Committee was formed.

Tell us more about this committee. What was its purpose and what has it done?

The Committee’s mission is to educate residents and visitors about how to live safely around and in harmony with the bears. We love our bears and want to see them around!  We don’t want anyone hurt (bears or people). We want people to understand that they can exist where bears roam.

Our Committee consists of about 10 people who are all interested in educating the community. We research what other bear communities, such as Highlands, NC, do and learn what methods they use to inform the public. Our mission is to be the first Bear Wise Community* in Georgia.

What else have we done? We made flyers, which are handed out to everyone who enters the community. We have posters placed near hiking trails and community areas. And we bring in speakers to talk about safety and living with bears. Past speakers include representatives from the state Department of Natural Resources, wildlife experts from neighboring colleges, and park rangers.

We are actively attending various functions around the area to get the word out about living safely with bears. We have developed a bear safe brochure that goes out to anyone coming into our gates (visitor and residents). A committee member goes to each new homeowner meeting to educate residents moving in. We distribute the brochure and other literature and give presentations to groups and clubs throughout our community and in neighboring communities since the bears, after all, roam throughout the mountains. We have designed magnets (for cars) and t-shirts to raise money for bear-safe garbage receptacles and have been able to place these new trash receptacles in all the public areas of our community.

Our Department of Public Safety is now tracking bear incidents to see if our efforts have made a difference, but we don’t have numbers yet.  Finally, we’ve contacted the state of Georgia to see what we need to do to be a Certified Bear Safe Community.

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Facebook Page:  Mary Jo Cox Photography

Instagram:  maryjo.cox


*See for more information about Bear Wise Communities.