At first glance, it’s a scene that plays out daily in cities across America. A U.S. Postal Service carrier wearing a royal blue bucket hat steps out of his mail truck and strides across the street, letters in hand. That much is unremarkable. But this postman either doesn’t notice or doesn’t seem to care that a hefty American black bear (Ursus americanus), likely a young male, is sitting on his haunches a few yards away, vigorously scratching his shedding winter coat.
Immediately to the left, Interstate 240 roars behind a chain-link fence, apparently just white noise to the bruin, which eventually lopes down the sidewalk deeper into this neighborhood barely a half mile from downtown Asheville, North Carolina.
Along the highway, a team of researchers with the North Carolina Urban/Suburban Bear Study is captivated by another discovery: a deep hollow inside a gnarled silver maple tree. Bear N209, a radio-collared female that’s among more than a hundred bears being tracked in the study, hibernated there over the winter, despite the constant rush of vehicles mere feet away.