When you think of black bears, what comes to mind for you? Some may think of a large, wild creature raiding neighborhood trash cans while others may recall a charming sighting of a mama bear with her adorable cubs during a childhood camping trip. For residents of Western North Carolina, bear sightings are quite common throughout the region. In fact, it is estimated that 100 to 200 black bears live among Asheville’s population of 90,000 people. Oftentimes, bears show up in our neighborhoods in search of food because their natural habitats are being threatened by the increase in urban development. Most negative bear encounters can be prevented with the right education, a mission that one Asheville resident took upon herself to fulfill. A Movement for Wildlife Conservation Local resident Roni Hidalgo moved to Asheville close to 5 years ago. She soon became enamoured by the beautiful lush surroundings of Western North Carolina, but it was not long after her move that she noticed entire forests being cut down to make room for development. This ignited a sense of urgency to get the community involved to help sustain the region’s biodiversity. She founded Bears Bees + Brews, a project that seeks to inspire people and raise awareness about wildlife conservation in a fun, exciting and interactive way. “Raising awareness is key,” Hidalgo says. “But doing it in fun, inspiring ways will help people interpret and digest information more effectively and want to share it with others.” Bears Bees + Brews produces festivals and events to create a safe space for friends and families to have fun while having access to policy makers and wildlife experts to learn more about sustaining wildlife, habitat and lands. The project collaborates with other organizations such as Wildlands Network, Center for Honeybee Research and NPCA. “Collaborating with these organizations helps us in our mission to educate the community,” Hidalgo says. Why Are Bears + Bees Important? There is little doubt bears are amazing creatures. They can walk around on two legs, communicate via scratching marks on trees, and eat what we eat. But did you know they are also of utmost importance to the environment? The Black Bear is an apex predator, which is a kind of predator that is placed on top of the food chain. This does not mean they are scary, dangerous beasts. In fact, they are very solitary animals. As an apex predator, black bears are vital to a healthy ecosystem, and healthy ecosystems are important to a healthy society. Bees and other pollinators are also necessary to maintain healthy ecosystems. It is estimated one third of the food we consume daily relies on pollinators. Sadly, the bee population is declining due to the use of harmful pesticides. If the honeybee population were to disappear entirely, it would result in a serious impact on our health and nutrition. Bears Bees + Brews Festival The culmination of this year's work for Bears Bees + Brews will take place at a free wildlife conservation festival on Saturday, October 19, from 12-5pm at New Belgium Brewery. Attending this family-friendly festival is a great way to show your support for wildlife and habitat conservation and their efforts. Every organization, business and volunteer involved recognize how important it is to create a conservation celebration in Asheville and Western North Carolina right now. Even the performers are lovers of nature, of our mountains, and wildlife. Tyler Ramsey, former lead guitarist of Band of Horses, will headline the festival along with Dave (an avid beekeeper) and Andrea of Cicada Rhythm and The Moon and You. To learn more visit BearsBeesBrews.com or @bearsbeesbrews on Facebook and Instagram.