Be ‘Bear Aware’: TWRA offers tips for preventing bear encounters

Published 8:44 am Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Metro Services Black bears are very active this time of year in the region according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Metro Services
Black bears are very active this time of year in the region according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

As the weather warms up and schools let out for the summer, many people will be out and about enjoying the outdoors, but state officials are warning them to keep an eye out for some of the area’s furry residents who may be spying their picnic baskets.
“We’re right in prime bear season,” said Wildlife Officer Dennis Ward with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “They have come out of their hibernation and right now they are consuming a lot of food to try to get their weight back up.”
It is this quest for food that often brings the bears in contact with people, a situation that can prove dangerous for both man and beast.
“There is an old saying that a fed bear is a dead bear, and it holds true,” Ward said.
When bears become accustomed to humans and getting an easy meal they develop bad habits and that can threaten the bear’s existence. Every year the 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. Some people even intentionally feed bears, according to the TWRA.
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.
According to the TWRA, it is not the agency’s policy to trap and move bears causing these types of problems.
“Due to the relatively large home ranges and mobility of bears, there is no place remote enough in Tennessee to relocate bears where they will not have contact with humans,” the TWRA website says in its section on black bear damage control. “Secondly, by moving bears often all that is accomplished is just the problem has been moved and not solved. Long-term solution to bears raiding garbage containers, bird feeders, and pet food left outdoors is to simply remove the food source and bears most often will go elsewhere.”
“Sadly, there are no other alternatives but to destroy bears that have become a threat to human safety,” the website continues. “Last year hundreds of agency man-hours were spent addressing bear-human conflicts and some bears had to be destroyed as a result of irresponsible behavior of people directly and indirectly feeding bears.”
Bear encounters are not uncommon in Carter County, Ward said, adding are also regularly seen inside the city limits of Elizabethton.
“Anywhere you live in Carter County there is a chance a bear may pass through your yard with the number of bears we have now,” Ward said.
There are several things that attract bears to a home or neighborhood and they all equal out to an easy meal, Ward said.
“Garbage is food to bears,” he said.
Pet food also is tempting to bears, Ward said.
“They are after calories because they are trying to put their weight back on,” he said. “They are opportunistic and if it’s easy, they are all about that.”
One thing that many residents may have in their yards but wouldn’t consider as food for bears are bird feeders, Ward said.
“It’s not a species specific feeder, it’s a wildlife feeder,” he said. “Bears love birdseed. While it might not fill them up , in the least it’s a good snack.”
Those enjoying an outdoor picnic or hike also face the chance of coming in contact with a bear. Because bear activity is high this time of year, Ward said a portion of the Appalachian Trail which runs from Oliver Hollow in Hampton around the edge of Watauga Lake and over the Watauga Dam has use restrictions currently in place.
“That portion of the trail is closed to all activities except for through hiking,” Ward said, adding that means picnics and food preparation are prohibited in that area.
For those who find themselves face-to-face with a bear, Ward offers some advice for how to handle the situation.
“Do not run,” he said. “Make yourself as large as possible. Stand tall, wave your arms around and make a lot of noise.”
The TWRA offers the following tips so residents can be “Bear Aware” and help protect not only themselves but the animals as well.
• Do not feed bears
• Store garbage in bear-proof containers or in a manner that is inaccessible to bears
• Do not feed birds between April and January when bears are most active
• Keep pet food indoors and feed pets in the house or garage
• Do not add food to your compost piles
• Keep cooking grills clean and stored indoors when not in use
Anyone who encounters a problem bear either in the wild or in a local neighborhood can contact the TWRA Region 4 Office to report the incident by calling 423-587-7037.

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