Living with the Black Bears.....
By nature, wild bears prefer solitude within the wilderness, it's the natural way and safer for both bear and humans alike. In the 21st century the presence of the Black Bear is less apparent than it was 30 to 40 years ago. Before the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there were only 200 Black Bears inhabiting the national park region, due to logging and over hunting. The creation of the national park allowed the wild bears an opportunity to live a more natural existence in their wilderness homelands.
Today the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts a population of over 1,500 wild Black Bears living within the national park. This increased number is due to proper wildlife planning and greater garbage control. No longer are the majority of Black Bears rooting through garbage cans and pursuing handouts, though a small minority near the outer fringes of the parklands and national forest are still having a hard time breaking their habitual nature.
Black Bears who find themselves in the close proximity of civilization subject themselves to greater harm from unhealthy food sources, irate or startled humans, poachers and vehicle homicide. For this reason the Black Bear population is back on the decline and it is the sole responsibility of both the wildlife resource agencies and the general public who live and visit these wilderness regions to practice bear safety in order to maintain a proper relationship between both Black Bears and Humans.
The Blue Ridge Highlander has compiled information concerning Bear/Human Conflict for the feature along with a list of Bear Safety practices that we have compiled from information created by the Appalachian Bear Rescue in conjunction with the World Society for the Protections of Animals and the information gathered from the Southern Appalachian Natural Resource Agencies concerning Black Bear safety.
What Contributes to Bear and Human Conflict
Bears become habituated to human food sources if they find it often enough. Habituated bears lose their wildness and become a threat to people, property and themselves.
The present thriving population is a result of the sound management of bears and the bear habitat. State and federal agencies have developed bear-proof lids and several bear-proof dumpsters. Regulations prohibiting the feeding of bears are strictly enforced within the national forest, national and state parks.
In spite of protection, bears are dying unnecessarily due to the improper disposal of garbage in campgrounds, picnic areas, residential neighborhoods, businesses and dumpsites.
The presence of humans will keep most Black Bears away at first (wild bears are naturally afraid of humans and the human scent) ultimately the temptation created by food and other human related products will draw bears in, most often at night. Night active bears begin a pattern of behavior that usually ends with their death. Losing their fear of humans they begin to associate human scent with the reward of food.
Bears that become day-active in developed areas put themselves in even greater danger. They could be killed by a car, digest toxic material from garbage and/or risk being trapped and relocated if they become troublesome.
Bear's that habituate to humans and human related food are a chronic problem, especially in heavily used recreation areas. Habitual bears cause property damage and have injured dozens of visitors. Yet the biggest victims of the conflict between bears and humans have been the bears themselves.
Rangers once carried shotguns loaded with birdshot to frighten habituated bears without causing permanent injury. Recent management practices have included trapping and relocation. Biologists, capture bears in culvert-style traps before transporting them from the developed area back into the wilderness.
Some bears readapt to the wild while other habitual bears use their amazing sense of smell and homing ability to return to the developed area they knew so well, risking a variety of dangers. Often, the relocated Black Bears face conflict with the resident bears in their new environment. According to wildlife agencies, relocation is a last resort for rehabilitating a habitual Black Bear.
In recent years, wildlife agencies have adopted more innovative bear management strategies that emphasize problem prevention rather than relocation. Public education and cooperation are essential priorities in these programs. More attention is given to keeping picnic areas and campgrounds completely free of food scraps and garbage, especially at night. As a last resort, day-active bears are trapped and released nearby, rather than relocated.
So far the new efforts appear to be successful when the technique is utilized consistently. The number of bears requiring relocation or euthanasia has been decreased significantly.
Many Bear/Human conflict problems can be resolved through simple actions such as removing easily accessible birdfeeders; avoid leaving pet food outdoors, and store garbage in an area inaccessible to bears. When camping or hiking, store food items in a vehicle or hoist food packs into the air away from the trunks of trees. It may take several days for a nuisance bear to learn there's no longer a free meal available, but it will learn and move along.
Left alone, young bears searching for territory will usually find their way back to more traditional range deep in the mountain forest where they find safety from humans and where humans are safe from startled bears. There are very few bear attacks on record though reports of mauling and mortalities are a reality, that is why Bear Safety education is important for all of us enjoying the mountains.
Black Bear Safety
Read our other Tales within the Black Bears of the Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains