Wildlife experts stress being responsible as bear sightings in Smokies spike

Local News

If you’re heading to the mountains anytime soon, be on the lookout for bears. They’re a popular sight in East Tennessee and as we see more pictures on social media, wildlife experts stress the importance of being responsible visitors and homeowners.

This week is the first time the Reitbergers, as a family of four, are able to visit the Smokies from their home in Wisconsin.

“Seeing nature, water, we’re going to check out a lot of the waterfalls if we can,” said Rick Reitberger.

On the drive down, Reitberger says he spoke with his 4-year-old son about the dangers of bears and how to keep wildlife safe. 

“It’s all about working with nature,” he said.

Wildlife experts with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park say male bears ended hibernation in March, with females in mid-April and now they’re searching for food.

“About 90 percent of the bears that we put GPS collars on, go in and out of the park. Bears can roam long distances from one side of the park to the other, and they’re going to go where their nose takes them,” said Bill Stiver, a supervisory wildlife biologist with GSMNP.

Stiver says we’ll see more and more bears being active this spring and summer. 

“If you allow bears to get your food and garbage, their behavior gets bolder and bolder and bolder over time,” he said.

It’s why right now he stresses the importance of being a responsible visitor and homeowner.

“Ultimately it protects the bear and it protects you.”

  • Never feed or approach bears
  • Secure food, garbage and recycling. Never leave it in your car
  • Remove bird feeders
  • Never leave pet food outdoors
  • Clean and store grills
  • Alert neighbors to bear activity

“If we start seeing a bear that makes its way into a developed area overnight, we’ll be very aggressive with that animal. Lot of times just capturing, handling and just releasing that animal is pretty scary for the animal and sends it on its way and we never see it again,” explained Stiver.

TWRA wildlife experts say in rental units guests and bears often “pay the price” for bad decisions made by earlier guests. When visiting bear country, TWRA stresses we remember that our actions impact bear behavior.

“You’re here to experience it, not ruin it or here to get in trouble or here to get hurt even. If you poke the bears or feed them you can hurt the bears and yourself,” said Reitberger.

TWRA says a black bear can smell the scent of a human in a footprint, ripe berries in the air and a steak grilling a mile away.

For more information on keeping bears and your community safe, click here.

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