Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency advises that as winter gives way to spring, residents and visitors should prepare for increased bear activity, as black bears are emerging from their winter slumber.
"Many reports of bear sightings are circulating around East Tennessee, which is not unusual considering it is bear country," officials said.
According to TWRA Black Bear Coordinator Dan Gibbs, 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.
A black bear has been recently seen in the Greeneville area, which has caused some alarm for the city’s residents. Greene Co.
Wildlife Officer David Carpenter reports that a black bear has been sighted in the Tusculum area over the past few days. TWRA is asking residents living in the area where the bear has been seen to temporarily remove any food source that may be attracting it. "Simple things such as removing bird feeders and outdoor pet foods, as well as keeping trash secured in a bear resistant container, or keeping it inside, will keep the bear moving. Once the bear has moved on to a new location, getting back to normal will probably be fine. In the meantime, it is the responsibility of residents in the area to keep from habituating the bear to human food sources," officials said.
TWRA is also taking the opportunity to educate other residents across the state about living alongside bears. "In general, citizens and visitors alike 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. The deliberate and accidental feeding of bears is socially irresponsible and causes animals to become conditioned and habituated to people. 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 irrefutable.
"The primary corrective action to this management dilemma is to simply restrict the access bears have to human foods. However, state and federal agencies have confronted significant challenges in bringing about even moderate changes to human behavior to achieve greater safety for humans and bears. Tennessee residents and visitors can take steps to ensure that wild bears remain 'wild' by carefully managing sources of human food or garbage that might attract bears. The wise stewardship of habitat we share with bears is the joint responsibility of both wildlife managers and the public and will be essential for a viable future for our state treasure, the black bears of Tennessee," officials said.
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.
The U.S. Forest Service also offers this information for visitors at campgrounds and picnic areas:
? Keep a clean site by properly disposing of:
-All garbage, including fruit rinds and cores, aluminum foil (even from grills) that has been used to cook or store food, plastic wrap and bags that have stored food, and cans and jars that are empty.
? Pick up food scraps around your site.
? Never leave food or coolers unattended (unless inside a vehicle or hard-sided camper).
? Wipe down tabletops before vacating your site.
? If a bear approaches your site, pack up your food and trash. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, by banging pans together, or even throwing rocks and sticks at it. If the bear is persistent, move away slowly to your vehicle or another secure area.
While in the Backcountry:
? Hang food and anything with strong odors (toothpaste, bug repellent, soap, etc.) at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from a tree or limb, or use special food storage boxes and cable systems if available.
? Do not cook or store food in or near your tent (food odors on tent or gear may attract a bear.)
? If a black bear approaches, frighten it by yelling, banging pans together, or throwing rocks.
? Do respect bears and admire them from a distance.
? Pack out trash -- don't bury it.
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.
? Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
? Carry bear pepper spray.
? Read all signs at the trailhead.
? Hike in a group, keep children close at hand.
? Make your presence known (call out).
? Hike during daylight hours and stay on the trail.
? Watch for bear signs: scat, claw marks, diggings, logs or stumps torn apart, etc.
? Avoid taking pets, they may attract bears to you.
Wildlife biologists believe that the state’s bear population is expanding and estimate the population at 6,500-7,000. Evidence supporting the population growth is seen through the harvest records over the past several decades. 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.