By Jill Penley
As summer approaches, reports of wild animal sightings tend to increase. In some instances, humans and wild animals get a little too close for comfort, and this is especially true when considering a large number of local black bear sightings.
“Sometimes people think bears are pretty docile and not a dangerous animal,” said Bill Stiver, wildlife biologist for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, “but they certainly can be, and people need to keep their distance.”
According to Dan Gibbs, a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) wildlife biologist says human and bear interaction is up as bears in Tennessee expand their range. “Education and outreach are important, but it’s a challenge,” said Gibbs, who explains people should be especially careful because many of the bears they could see are hungry, inexperienced young males seeking territory and food.
Considering several recent sightings, TWRA officials wish to educate Tennessee residents about living alongside bears. In general, the organization said, residents and visitors to the area should be proactive to make sure bears remain wild and reduce human-bear interactions. Bears that are attracted to human food sources or that are deliberately fed by humans have a relatively short life.
According to the TWRA, bears that receive food from people have a fraction of the survival rate that “wild” bears that do not regularly interact with humans have. “The deliberate and accidental feeding of bears is socially irresponsible,” a TWRA Facebook post 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 post continued.
Though the primary action to reduce these occurrences is to keep bears from human foods, state and federal agencies have met significant obstacles to bring even moderate changes to human behavior to achieve
greater safety for humans and bears.
Wildlife biologists believe the bear population is expanding and estimate the population to be at 6,500-7,000, according to the TWRA.
To help ensure a viable future for the black bears, TWRA asks residents and visitors to remember these tips:
– 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 they eat completely
– Store pet foods securely
– Keep grills and smokers clean and stored in a secure area if not used
– Talk to family and neighbors when bear activity is occurring in the area
For visitors at campgrounds and picnic areas, the U.S. Forest Service has some tips as well:
– Keep a clean site by properly disposing of garbage such as fruit rinds and cores, aluminum foil that has been used to cook or store food, plastic wrap and bags that have stored food and empty cans and jars
– Pick up food and scraps from your site
– Never leave food or
coolers unattended unless inside a vehicle or hard-sided camper
– Wipe down tabletops before vacating your site
They also advise on what to do if a bear visits your campsite:
– Pack up your food and trash
– If necessary, attempt to scare the animal with loud shots, banging pots and pans or even throwing rocks or sticks
– Move slowly away to your vehicle or secure area