GATLINBURG (WATE) – When people think of bears, many times they think of the Smokies, but in recent years we have seen bears venturing further out of the mountains. There is one thing they are looking for.
“Their primary concern is food, you know getting fat before next winter,” said Matt Cameron with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Head into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the warm months and you might spot a bear foraging.
“I’d love to see one. It’s a wild animal in the forest,” said park visitor Nadeer Alabdrabalnabi.
When food gets scarce their presence in more populated areas increases.
“The mast crop was low last fall and right now there’s not a lot of natural available food for them,” said Cameron.
TWRA says they have noticed an uptick in the calls about bear sightings, and they have one message.
“A bear that gets habituated to human foods is kind of like a person that gets addicted to drugs. You know once someone gets on a drug, it’s really really hard for them to come off that drug,” said Cameron.
Feeding bears intentionally or unintentionally is a dangerous act, and wildlife officials say it is on us to make sure the bears stay in their natural habitat. Homes and businesses in bear prone areas have locking trash bins to keep bears out, but TWRA says if you do not use them properly it defeats the purpose. They also say people intentionally attracting bears with food is bad for people and the bears.
“That behavior just cannot be tolerated. That’s the reason bears have to be killed,” said Cameron.
The bottom line is that it is okay to notice bears in the wild, but keep your distance and do not entice them to come to you.
“I’d keep my distance. I don’t want to make them nervous and make me nervous and make them more aggressive,” said Alabdrabalnabi.
“Until people take it upon themselves to abide by these rules and say hey I do have a hand then it’s going to be impossible for us to get rid of all these bear problems,” said Cameron.
In the national park, rangers say if you come across a bear you should always stay at least 50 yards from it so you don’t disturb it while foraging. Both national park rangers and TWRA say another way you could be unintentionally attracting bears is with bird seed. They recommend putting it and other outdoor pet food away and out of reach of bears.