National Park Reminds Visitors To View Bears Responsibly

National Park Reminds Visitors To View Bears Responsibly

It’s probably on your “must see” list when you visit the Smoky Mountains, but the national park is reminding visitors to keep your distance and not interfere with the natural habit of the bears. It’s critical that the bears feed naturally before their winter hibernation. Bears depend on fall foods like acorns and grapes to store fat, which enables them to survive winter. This year, however, these foods are extremely rare which is forcing the bears to travel longer distances to find food.

Bear_Indian Grass_Bielenberg_smallAs you’ve probably seen on the news and/or social media, bears are traveling well outside the park boundaries, including busy downtown areas and even neighborhoods. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park reports that  a mother bear with a GPS-monitoring collar and three cubs traveled over 20 miles from the Elkmont area of the national park to downtown Sevierville. Local residents are also reminded to keep your garbage cans secured and to remove any other attractants such as bird feeders and pet foods.

Due to the lack of fall food, bears are being forced to eat less-desirable foods such as hickories and walnuts. Park staff members have reported as many as eight different bears visiting a single tree to feed on nuts. Because of this, several areas are being temporarily closed around the park to allow bears access to the food they need. Visitors are reminded to respect these closed areas to give bears an opportunity to eat undisturbed and build up fat reserves for the winter. Photographers are reminded to use telephoto lenses to capture photographs and to remain at least 50 yards from bears at all times.

“There were no cherries this year and the hard mast is marginal at best,” said Smokies Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver. “Because food is scare, bears are trying to access individual trees in areas they normally would not during good food years.”

Feeding bears is illegal and all food waste should be properly disposed of to discourage bears from approaching people. Feeding, touching, disturbing, and willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, is illegal in the park. If approached by a bear, visitors should slowly back away to put distance between the animal and themselves creating space for the animal to pass. You can find out more about what to do if you encounter a bear, by clicking here.

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