GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — As bears become more active and more visitors head to the Great Smoky Mountains, local leaders are trying to spread the message of being bear safe.
Coincidentally, the same week Gatlinburg officials start reminding people about what to do and not to do near bears, a couple of bears are seen at a gas station off Dudley Creek, turning over garbage cans and getting close to humans.
Police were called to the incident to make sure no one was hurt, and to try and scare the bears away from the gas station.
Gatlinburg Police Chief Randall Brackins said there are ordinances in place so bears can’t dig into trash so easily.
He said if the city’s ordinance doesn’t cover a specific location, such as the Shell gas station, then the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s proclamation (00-17) does.
“You cannot indirectly feed bears, as part of that proclamation, and if you leave garbage out, that indirectly (feeds them). Not just bears, but any wildlife,” Brackins said.
About 20 years ago, Brackins, said, the city required wildlife proof trash bins, making it hard for any wildlife to dig into the trash and eat leftover human food.
He most most businesses or residents have those in place, but every once in a while they will come across someone who isn’t in compliance.
Brackins said his crews receive a couple of calls a day about bear sightings in populated areas, especially when the bears and visitors become more active.
That’s why right now, they are trying to push out those bear safety messages.
“Keep your distance from the bear, and then you slowly back away if you encounter a bear, don’t make no sudden movements and don’t lunge toward them,” Brackins said.
The biggest rule: don’t feed the bears, intentionally or unintentionally.
Brackins said if bears know food will be readily available at a certain business or residence, they will be repeat customers.
“They’ll know the human is the source of the food, so their next thing to do is to go to you if you’re the one feeding them,” Brackins said.
Brackins said it’s at that point when bears could be euthanized.
“They’re wild animals. And they’re going to do anything. They’re going to, their claws are very sharp and they can bite,” Brackins said.
Brackins said people could be fined if they violate either the city’s ordinance or TWRA’s proclamation.
A TWRA officer headed out to the gas station to talk with the owner.
The officer told us the business wasn’t going to be fined, but he was going to talk with the owner about getting new bear-proof garbage cans.
The officer said the owner was most likely going to have to get the new trash cans approved by the parent company.
Brackins said if you ever see a bear in the city limits, call the Gatlinburg Police Department at (865) 436-5181.