SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — The warming temperatures of spring are a signal to the bears that it’s time to wake up from their winter slumber.

The black bears in the Smokies are unusual in that they often den high above the ground in standing hollow trees, according to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website. It also stated bears do not truly hibernate, but enter long periods of sleep, adding that they may leave the den for short periods if disturbed or during brief warming trends.

That’s why Matt Auberle, the current facilitator of the Smokies BearWise task force and General Manager of Smoky Mountains PINK Jeep Tours in Pigeon Forge, spoke about what people need to know to stay safe this time of year.

“They’re all hungry and so they’re looking for natural food sources, grasses, and grubs, and whatever they can find because bears are omnivores, they’ll eat whatever they can find,” Auberle said. “What we don’t want them to find is tourist or residential trash.”

Auberle reviewed the six at-home BearWise basics, which are listed below:

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

Auberle also shared that there are currently about 1,900 bears in the park, adding they won’t always stay in the park. He added that this is why residents and visitors alike need to do their part to be “BearWise” outside of their homes as well.

“If we give them their space, you know, the park rule is no closer than 50 yards or close enough to disturb them,” said Auberle. “If you’re starting to walk up to them and they’re starting to go the other way because mama and the cubs are becoming alarmed, you’re too close.”

The BearWise task force is a collaborative effort among businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies working to minimize human–bear conflicts in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding communities. To learn more, those interested can head to the BearWise website and social media pages.