JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Black bears are rarely aggressive towards people, but sometimes they are and it can lead to a bear being euthanized or relocated.
There have been several cases of bears being put down across East Tennessee over the past two weeks.
The U.S. Forest Service confirmed Thursday that an aggressive bear at a Carter County campground was captured and euthanized after reports of bears entering the campground and taking food and garbage.
Last week, a bear was euthanized in Sevier County after it scratched a 90-year-old woman. Another bear was put down after it tore open a tent at a Great Smoky Mountains National Park campground and caused superficial wounds to a woman and 3-year-old child.
So how do wildlife officials decide whether to euthanize or relocate a nuisance bear? The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, or TWRA, uses a Bear Nuisance Matrix.
“It was developed with input from bear biologists, managers, and professionals that takes bear behavior into account and offers appropriate responses,” TWRA spokesperson Matthew Cameron said.
The matrix is based on two factors: a bear’s behavior (or level of conflict) and its food source.
Cameron used the bear that injured the 90-year-old woman as an example.
“Because the bear made human contact and caused serious bodily injury, we referred to the matrix which places this bear under Level 4 and calls for an attempt to be made to euthanize it,” Cameron said. “Also, after the bear injured the woman on her porch, it charged another area resident who shot and injured it before a wildlife officer euthanized it.”
Cameron also noted the bear was active during the day, in very hot temperatures, and a necropsy revealed pasta noodles and other human foods in its stomach.
The matrix also allows some bears to be relocated instead of euthanized, but relocation is often unsuccessful.
“In these instances, TWRA staff may be able to trap or chemically immobilize a bear, tag it for future identification, and relocate it to remote areas within the Cherokee National Forest,” Cameron said. “Unfortunately though, relocating nuisance bears typically just passes the problem on to someone else as they typically engage in the same nuisance behaviors that caused them to originally be moved.”
Recent research showed that relocated bears are usually dead within a year due to euthanasia because of aggressive behavior, being struck by a vehicle, or from public land hunting, Cameron said.
The TWRA lists the following things people should know about bears:
- While black bears are usually tolerant of humans, they should always be treated as wild animals, whether in residential or backcountry areas.
- Black bears are rarely aggressive towards people and typically go out of their way to avoid contact, however as human development continues and bear numbers increase, occasional interactions will be unavoidable.
- Black bears are extremely powerful animals whose behaviors can be unpredictable.
- Black bears are very curious animals and this should not be confused with aggression.
- Startled bears will often confront intruders by turning sideways to appear larger, make woofing and teeth clacking sounds, salivate, lay their ears back and slap the ground with their paws. These are warnings for you to leave the area.
- Bears will often stand on their hind legs to get a better view or a better sense of hearing and smell.
The agency also offers these guidelines for minimizing unnecessary and potentially dangerous encounters:
- Never feed or approach bears!
- If a bear approaches you in the wild, it is probably trying to assess your presence.
- If you see a black bear from a distance, alter your route of travel, return the way you came, or wait until it leaves the area.
- Make your presence known by yelling and shouting at the bear in an attempt to scare it away.
- If approached by a bear, stand your ground, raise your arms to appear larger, yell and throw rocks or sticks until it leaves the area.
- When camping in bear country, keep all food stored in a vehicle and away from tents.
- Never run from a black bear! This will often trigger its natural instinct to chase.
- If a black bear attacks, fight back aggressively and do not play dead! Use pepper spray, sticks, rocks, or anything you can find to defend yourself. If cornered or threatened, bears may slap the ground, “pop” their jaws or “huff” as a warning. If you see these behaviors, you are too close! Slowly back away while facing the bear at all times.