Firefighters at Station 6 near Big Canoe have learned not to leave the bay door open for even a few minutes after recently finding bear prints and overturned trash inside.
“We never actually saw [the bear]. It ran off before I got to it, but we know it was there,” said firefighter Larry Robinson, who has had several run-ins with black bears in the last few weeks.
“One that was probably about 300 pounds ran across in front of me on Afton Road, and then one got into my bird feeder and drug it off about a week ago. Now that’s getting a little too close to home.”
While not uncommon in northwestern Dawson and the region, bear sightings have been on the rise over the last several years.
“This has by far been the worst year for us in nuisance bear complaints,” said Ken Riddleberger, regional supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources.
“The complaints so far this year are two times what we had all of last year. In July and August, we had 700. All last year we only had 700.”
Nuisance complaints are those involving reports of bears getting into bird feeders, pet food or digging through trash cans.
“People need to realize that about 99 percent of those complaints are avoidable,” Riddleberger said. “Bears are here. If we provide something that tastes and smells good, they’re going to come eat it.”
DNR has about 400 stations across north Georgia where they attract bears with sardines to help determine the population in particular regions.
“We estimate between 2,500 and 3,000 bears are living in north Georgia,” Riddleberger said.
The stations saw about a 78 percent increase in visitation this year.
“That definitely shows an upward trend,” he said.
Population estimates also take into account the number of bears killed during bow and firearms hunting seasons.
“We’ve also set bear harvesting records every year for the past three years,” Riddleberger said.
Also on the rise is the number of bears hit by motor vehicles.
“Road kills are also up this year,” Riddleberger said, noting a 250-pound male hit before daybreak Sept. 28 near Ga. 400 and Hwy. 136.
According to Dawson County Sheriff’s records, the bear died after being struck by about six vehicles.
“We had two more in Forsyth County hit on the road pretty recently,” Riddleberger said.