BANNER ELK, N.C. (WJHL) – Lees-McRae College was recognized as the nation’s first BearWise campus, marking the school as a facility that operates responsibly alongside local black bear populations.

According to a press release from the school, Lee-McRae was recognized in late 2022 by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission after completing several program changes using recommendations from BearWise, an organization dedicated to encouraging responsible interaction with American black bears.

“By becoming a recognized BearWise campus, Lees-McRae College is addressing the human-bear conflicts occurring on campus,” said Wildlife Commission biologist Colleen Olfenbuttel. “Which will help keep bears wild and students, faculty and staff safe.”

The change to a bear-friendly campus centers around minimizing attractants that may draw animals to the facility:

  • Rearranging trash receptacles to minimize access for bears.
  • Phasing in bear-resistant trash receptacles around campus.
  • Purchasing trash compactors to minimize garbage in dumpsters.
  • Replacing dumpster lids with a sturdier metal option to keep bears out.

New wildlife policies also created a report line to alert campus authorities to any animals that may be wandering in the area.

Students and staff will also be required to adhere to strict guidelines against feeding or approaching bears, and education programs will teach new students in the importance of the program.

“The most important reason to become a BearWise community is to protect both our human population and local black bears,” said Lees-McRae College Executive Director of Campus Operations HD Stewart. “BearWise is a perfect partner for Lees-McRae because our emphasis on experiential learning and caring for local wildlife means our students are inspired to see the success of the program.”