Young male black bears are on the move this time of year, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency warns it's the season for increased human-bear encounters.
The agency receives more calls about black bears in late spring than at any other time of year because young bears are striking out on their own and leaving their mothers in search of their own territory, TWRA spokesperson Mime Barnes said. Young bears wander and most often find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, including suburban areas.
"It's that time of year when bears are seen. It's not that they're causing issues. They're seen, but we don't keep track of sightings," Barnes said Friday.
The exception would be if bears show up in a place they're not supposed to be, like Nashville or other cities in the middle or western parts of Tennessee, she said.
Wildlife officials hope a bear that caused a stir in East Ridge several days ago started looking for its new home elsewhere.
"We're hoping it moved on," Barnes said.
The best defense against bear encounters at home is to remove anything that might attract bears and other wildlife, she said.
Bears roaming into new areas are often attracted to easy meals including bird feeders, trash, birdbaths and pet food bowls with leftover food in them, according to TWRA. These items can unintentionally lure bears and other unwanted wildlife and keep them from moving into more natural habitats.
Bears accustomed to foods provided by humans are easily conditioned and pose an even greater threat as they sometimes become more aggressive.
The U.S. Forest Service echoes that mantra.
Cherokee National Forest visitors are required to store unattended food in bear-resistant containers, in a vehicle in solid, non-pliable material or suspend food at least 12 feet off the ground, according to forest service spokesperson Tammy Robinson.
"Many people leave food out in the open or do not dispose of waste properly," forest service acting fire and natural resources staff officer Mary Miller said in the statement. "These actions become the source of most bear and human problems."
DON'T FEED THE BEARS AND DON'T BE BEAR FOOD
>If you see a bear in your yard, look large and make a lot of noise, back slowly away.
>Never approach or follow a bear to take photos.
>Do not purposefully feed bears.
>Remove all attractants from your yard including bird feeders, uneaten pet food and ripe fruits or garden vegetables.
>Store grills in a garage or outbuilding.
>Store trash and recycling in bear-proof containers.
>Do not feed birds between April and January, when bears are most active.
>Remove uneaten pet food from outside areas or feed pets indoors.
>Do not add greasy foods to your compost piles or compost in bear-proof containers.
>Keep cooking grills clean and stored indoors when not in use.
Source: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
In December 2017, the Cherokee National Forest implemented a closure order to minimize encounters between black bears and humans, Robinson said.
The order requires food, attractants and refuse to be under a person's immediate control, she said. The person must be physically present within 100 feet, in plain sight and be able to immediately attend to and store such items where the bear can't get them. The order was issued to provide for visitor safety and for the conservation of bears, Miller said.
The best way to deal with bears — the region's largest predator — is to be anything but friendly and eliminate anything that attracts them to your home, campsite or hiking group.
Garbage and food odors attract bears to residential areas, dump sites, campsites, and picnic areas, Robinson said. Once a bear develops a pattern of relying on human food sources, it begins to lose its fear of people and may become aggressive, creating safety concerns for humans and a situation that can also be fatal for the bear.
Bears that frequent inhabited areas may become an easy target for illegal hunting, may be accidentally killed by an automobile or may suffer from ingesting toxic material. Close encounters between humans and bears usually spell trouble, Robinson said.
Bears can turn up anywhere, as demonstrated in June 2020 when an Athens, Tennessee, police officer snapped a photo of a small bear scrambling through town. In September last year a young black bear was euthanized after running around downtown Chattanooga.
In 2014, a large male black bear was struck and killed by an SUV on Dayton Boulevard, just two blocks from Red Bank City Hall. Another bear was spotted in Hamilton County's Apison community in 2017, and another was spied by two hikers heading to Audubon Acres in July 2015. Bears also have been frequently sighted in most surrounding counties in recent years.
Black bear attacks are very uncommon, but it has happened in the region before.
On June 6, 2015, a 16-year-old boy was dragged from his hammock and mauled as he slept at a campsite 4.5 miles from Fontana Lake in North Carolina's portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The boy sustained multiple injuries before his father managed to shoo the bear away.
On April 13, 2006, a 6-year-old Ohio girl was killed, and her mother and 2-year-old brother were injured in a black bear attack on Chilhowee Mountain in Polk County, Tennessee. A large bear that might have been stalking the family burst from the woods and grabbed the little boy by the head while the mother and others tried to fend the bear off. The mother was then dragged off the trail as others fought off the bear. In the chaos, the 6-year-old girl vanished and was found later by emergency officials with a bear hovering over her body.
In May 2000, a 50-year-old Cosby, Tennessee, schoolteacher became the first person known to die from a bear attack in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to newspaper archives.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.