Sustainability Environment

North Carolina set to lift decades-old black bear hunting ban in sanctuaries

A black bear walking down a gravel road in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge near Manteo, North Carolina. Greg Meland/ iStock

Story at a glance

  • The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission voted to overturn the state’s bear hunting ban in sanctuaries.
  • Unless delayed by a legislative review, the ban would be lifted by Aug. 1.
  • There were fewer than 1,000 black bears in North Carolina in the 1990s. Now there are close to 15,000.

Correction: This story was updated on March 8, 2022 to clarify the nature of the hunting ban decision.

After a decades-long ban on black bear hunting in North Carolina’s bear sanctuaries, residents there will be permitted to hunt in three different bear sanctuaries later this year.  

North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission voted to overturn the state’s bear hunting ban in designated sanctuaries that was first enacted in 1971 when the black bear population was fewer than 1,000. Since then, the species’ numbers skyrocketed, and the black bear population is now estimated to be at 15,000. The University of North Carolina Charlotte Urban Institute said that over the last 30 years the population has expanded at an estimated rate of 6 percent per year. 

During a public hearing session, the commission presented a proposal to allow permit hunting opportunities on Panthertown Valley, a 6,311-acre backcountry area that includes three bear sanctuaries.  

The commission said the U.S. Forest Service requested Panthertown allow bear hunting permits on sanctuaries due to, “increased human-bear interactions occurring on both forest service property and adjacent private property.” Officials hope opening hunting could stabilize the growing black bear population. 


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There’s been swift backlash to the commission’s proposal, with a Change.org petition garnering more than 8,000 signatures in opposition to the move. 

“Human behavior and activities are responsible for the increased bear sightings and clashes. We as humans need to address and acknowledge that our actions are changing bear behavior and causing conflicts. Managing our habits, understanding how they impact bears and adjusting our activities will solve bear-human conflicts, not hunting,” said the petition.  

Friends of Panthertown, a nonprofit that works with the U.S. Forest Service to conserve the region, said unless delayed by a legislative review, the three bear sanctuaries in Panthertown will no longer be designated as a sanctuary or provide a haven for black bears by Aug. 1. 

The group also said the commission “received significant public comment” about the proposed rule change, with 2,744 people submitting comments, of which 86 percent were opposed. 

Though the rule change will allow bear hunting in North Carolina’s bear sanctuaries, it will include limitations like restrictions from hunting bears while they are eating. And currently, hunters are only allowed to kill one bear during the season. 

According to UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, hunting can be used as a good management tool when regulated carefully. Black bear sightings have become more common in North Carolina, and the state has a Black Bear Management Plan that calls for a “limited bear population zone” within more urban areas due to the potential for bear-vehicle collisions and bear-human encounters. 

The black bear is the only bear species found in North Carolina or anywhere in the eastern U.S. They mostly rely on their sense of smell and hearing, as their eyesight is weak, and can climb, run, swim and dig. They can travel at speeds of 35 miles per hour over short distances.  

Most North Carolina bears emerge from their dens in March or early April, depending on the weather and mobility of their cubs.


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