SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is backing up a noticeable trend – that more bears seem to be getting into cars, cabins and homes.
“It does seem that it’s an all-time high and I’m not sure that we have numbers to say that it is a record year or anything like that, but because everyone has a camera in their pocket these days on their smartphone, these bear-human interactions are getting documented I think more frequently,” said TWRA spokesman Matt Cameron.
In June, the TWRA said a bear died after getting stuck inside a car parked at a Sevierville rental cabin. Officers say it seemed all it took was the smell of an empty soda can and snack food bag to attract the bear. In the same month, four other bears were euthanized due to the bears becoming habituated to humans.
“A lot of folks have moved to East Tennessee from all over the country now and furthermore, we get 14 million visitors a year to the Smokies, and they have to come through Sevier or Blount County or on the North Carolina side. There’s just so many more opportunities for bears and humans to interact with one another and we’re seeing some pretty irresponsible behavior.”
That irresponsible behavior includes things like getting too close to a bear or feeding them.
“They get more comfortable, and what they’re expecting is someone to feed them,” Cameron said. “They’re really used to getting a handout, either out of a car window, or someone is pitching something to them, they’ll eat it almost like feeding a dog or a cat, throwing something down they come. Then they start coming toward you more often. But the sad part is that they are still wild animals at heart. They can still hurt you. They are very strong animals – a lot of muscle, a lot of muscle in their head and on their jaws.”
It’s why the agency is putting out yet another warning. Most of us have likely heard it before, but now, it’s worth repeating.
“Don’t feed them or approach them, number one. Secure garbage, pet food, bird seed, anything that is attracting that bear if you live in that area and you can control these things. Let’s keep all those things put up, because if a bear is hanging around your property, it’s there because there is an attractant,” Cameron said. “We’ve just got to get people to understand that they’re here to stay, we’re here to stay, and we have to coexist. We share this earth with them and if we don’t change our ways than a lot of them will have to be euthanized because of our actions.”
Remember tips for your car, too: lock the doors, roll up the windows and don’t leave any food or wrappers inside.
If you see a bear in Gatlinburg, let officers know by calling 865-436-5181.
Tennessee actually has regulations saying you can’t feed bears nor can you leave food or garbage out in a way that might attract them. However, TWRA notes this only applies to a six-square mile area in Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky National Park. So the agency is focusing now on public awareness.