GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Black bears are making a comeback in North Carolina.
The North Carolina Wildlife Commission said there were only about 2,000 black bears in eastern North Carolina in 1980. That number has increased to over 10,000 bears today.
Officials credit wildlife sanctuaries and strict laws on hunting bears for helping their population increase. But now, the Wildlife Commission is considering changes to bear hunting laws because the population is getting so large. One change for this year is hunters will be allowed to use bait during the November and December seasons, according to The Daily Reflector of Greenville (http://bit.ly/1p2iwoV ).
Other changes being considered are increasing the limit of one bear a hunter can kill each season.
The bears also are found more places. Outside of the mountains 30 years ago, they were confined to the far eastern North Carolina. Now they have spread west to near Interstate 95.
But the bears have also found more problems as they have spread back east. In 2009, about a quarter of corn producers and about a fifth of all peanut producers reported to state officials that bears has damaged their crops.
"They may have tried for years to handle it but it's hard to kill them, especially without dogs," said 25-year-old Ryan Williams, who is an avid hunter.
Bears reports are also increasing in areas outside of sanctuaries. Greenville Animal Control has reported three bear sightings in the city this year. The sightings may increase in August as mature bears seek mates and mother bears drive away their older cubs to find their own territory, wildlife agents said.
The best advice if someone sees a bear is to stay away and call wildlife officials.
"We have such respect for the bears," Williams said. "We want them to be healthy and live long lives and if we can be a part of that, we want to. We don't ever want to lose them."