KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — According to Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials, bear encounters are bound to happen considering there are about 1,900 bears and more than 14 million visitors annually. Bill Stiver, the Supervisory Wildlife Biologist for GSMNP, said it’s what you do once you have that encounter that can make all the difference.

According to the BearWise website, if visitors see a bear before the bear notices them, the visitors are not to approach the bear. Instead, visitors can enjoy from a safe distance and quietly move away. GSMNP regulations state that visitors cannot willfully get within 50-yards of a bear.

If the bear does see the visitor, they should back away slowly, never running since it can trigger a chase response.

If a bear does approach people, they should hold their ground, wave their arms and yell until the bear leaves.

If a black bear makes contact with visitors, they should not play dead, you should fight back aggressively.

Stiver said while bear attacks are rare, they have happened. He said in his 30-year career with GSMNP there have been two deaths and a number of injuries. He spoke about the signs that people can watch out for that a bear may be aggressive.

“If you have a bear that’s acting very aggressive towards you, coming at you, you try to give it the right away,” said Stiver. “If it continues to follow you then stand, especially if you’re in a group, stand as a group, stand your ground, wave your arms, yell try to spook that bear back and make yourself look at big as possible.”

The best defense against a bear is bear spray. Stiver also mentioned that while visitors are allowed to carry a firearm into the park, they are not allowed to shoot bears.

Stiver also shared that between mid-May to late August is the most challenging time for human-bear conflicts.

Some BearWise tips for your home are listed below.

  • Never feed or approach bears
  • Secure food, garbage and recycling
  • Remove birdfeeders when bears are active
  • Never leave pet food outdoors
  • Clean and store grills
  • Alert neighbors to bear activity

BearWise tips for the outdoors are listed below.

  • Stay alert and stay together
  • Leave no trash or food scraps
  • Keep dogs leashed
  • Camp safely
  • Know what to do if you see a bear
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it