Bears in Your Backyard

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A sow black bear teaches her cub to utilize trash as a food source near Gatlinburg, Tenn. Habituated bears such as these have a relatively short life span as opposed to wild bears that are not dependent on human food sources. (Photo courtesy TWRA)

As winter gives way to spring, TWRA warns that you should be aware of the potential for increased bear activity as black bears are emerging from their winter hibernation period.

According to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Black Bear Coordinator Dan Gibbs, many reports of bear sightings are circulating around East Tennessee. He said increased activity should be expected this time of year, as it is the season when they’ve emerged from their winter dens and are in search of food to replenish their energy and fatten back up.

Gibbs says in most cases bears are attracted to homes by food…. either garbage cans, dog food left outdoors or even bird feeders. Gibbs said simple things such as removing bird feeders, outdoor pet foods or keeping trash secured in a bear resistant container will keep the bear moving. He says once the bear has moved on to a new location, getting back to normal will probably be fine.

Wildlife biologists say that Tennessee’s bear population is expanding and estimate the population as high as 7,000. In the early 1980s, hunters only killed between 20 and 25 black bears per season. In recent years, harvest numbers have reached 500 plus bears on multiple occasions.

As Tennessee’s bear population increases, TWRA is trying to educate people about living alongside bears. Gibbs said that people should be proactive in their efforts to ensure that bears remain wild, thus reducing bear-human interactions. Nationwide bear management experience has clearly shown that bears attracted to human food sources, or that are deliberately fed by humans, have a relatively short life. The survival rate of bears receiving food from people is likely a fraction of that of “wild” bears that do not have repeated contact with humans.

Gibbs said, “Bears that habituate to human presence eventually become a threat to human safety and the end result is that such bears are often killed by intolerant or fearful landowners or have to be destroyed. The fact that ‘garbage kills bears’ is very true.”

He says remember these basic tips when residing or vacating in bear country:

– Never feed or approach bears.
– Do not store food, garbage, or recyclables in areas accessible to bears.
– Remove bird feeders where bears are active.
– Feed outdoor pets a portion size that will be completely consumed during each meal and securely store pet foods.
– Keep grills and smokers clean and stored in a secure area when not in use.
– Talk to family and neighbors when bear activity is occurring in your area.

Any Time You See A Bear:

– Do not feed or toss food to a bear or any wild animal.
– Keep children close at hand.
– Keep pets indoors or in a vehicle or camper.
– Do not approach a bear–they are dangerous. If it changes its natural behavior (feeding, foraging, or movement) because of your presence, you are too close.
– Never surround or corner a bear.
– Never run from a black bear — back slowly away and make lots of noise.
– Encourage others to follow these instructions.
– Be responsible. Improper behavior on your part may cause the bear to die.
– In the extreme case that you are attacked by a black bear, try to fight back using any object available. Act aggressively and intimidate the bear by yelling and waving your arms. Playing dead is not appropriate.

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