Tennessee Bear Population Soars

Numbers Are The Highest In 100+ Years

Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, Bear Hunting Magazine

Bear populations have increased dramatically in the eastern United States in the last 20 years.

Tennessee's bear population is no exception. It is now probably higher than it has ever been in the last 100-150 years. Most of Tennessee's bear population exists on public lands in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, including a small population that occurs on the upper Cumberland Plateau. As Tennessee's human population increases, and more people move near public lands, bear interactions with humans will continue to increase. These public lands include the Smokey Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest and the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Areas.

In the mid-90s, TWRA and the National Park Service participated in an experimental relocation of a small population of black bears from the Smokies to the Big South Fork NRRA. Since that time, that population has mixed with black bears from the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky with some of these animals dispersing across the upper Cumberland Plateau.

Big South Fork NRRA continues to work cooperatively with TWRA to protect and manage black bears. Park visitors should be aware that there may be special National Park Service regulations regarding wildlife management, camping and visitor use inside the National Area.

Every year the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) receives hundreds of calls and complaints concerning black bears. Most of the complaints are of bears raiding garbage containers, bird feeders, and pet food left outdoors.

Additionally, some irresponsible people even intentionally feed bears. As a result of the improper storage of garbage, easy availability of bird seed, and the direct feeding of bears, animals often become habituated to humans and become a nuisance and a threat to human safety. Nationwide bear management experience has shown the life expectancy of "nuisance" bears may be less than half of that of "wild" bears that do not have repeated contact with humans.

There are no other alternatives but to destroy bears that have become a threat to human safety. Last year hundreds of agency man-hours were spent addressing bear-human conflicts and at least seven bears were destroyed as a result of irresponsible behavior of people directly and indirectly feeding bears. The fact that "Garbage Kills Bears" is irrefutable. Remember, a fed bear is a dead bear. As summer approaches and the likelihood of bear sightings increases, the TWRA encourages residents to educate themselves by being "bear aware."

TWRA believes that bears and humans can coexist. Often all that is required to prevent bear-human conflicts is to simply stop feeding bears, properly store garbage, remove bird feeders, and/or keep pet food indoors. Disappointingly, some people are often reluctant to do the simplest of measures to keep our Tennessee bears "wild" and therefore, safe. Despite the fact that garbage kills bears, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to communicate this to the public.

Until the public stops feeding bears and acknowledges the fact that wildlife agencies will have no choice but to euthanize bears that become a threat to humans.

For more information and/or technical assistant regarding black bears in Tennessee, visit the region IV web site at www.twraregion4.org, or contact the TWRA Region IV office at 423-587-7037.

For black bear problems on the Cumberland Plateau, contact TWRA Region III office in Crossville at 931-484-9571 or toll-free in-state at 1-800-262-6704.

In the Big South Fork NRRA, to learn about park regulations concerning bears or to report bear activity, contact Bandy Creek Visitor Center at 423-286-7275 or the National Area Resource Hot-Line at 423-569-2404, ext. 505.

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