Beyond the boundaries of bear country: be aware even outside the park

Published: Apr. 29, 2019 at 11:17 PM EDT
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Male bears have been out since March and mother bears and cubs came out in the Smokies in mid-April. The National Park Service said those bears will be more defensive, which is why people visiting the park need to keep their distance.

As the boundaries of bear country grow, wildlife officials said East Tennesseans need to be aware in other places, like Gatlinburg and Cosby as well.

"It was real eye-opening to me how far out into these communities' bears are roaming and then coming way back into the park," Bill Stiver, the wildlife biologist for the National Park Service, said.

When Bill sees pictures of tourists standing just feet from wildlife, he said it's concerning.

"Then they're comfortable around us and then they come into our space."

Tourists are required to stand 50 yards away, which is the equivalent to half a football field. You are also prohibited from feeding bears and must take out or lock up your trash. Not doing so could leave you with a class C misdemeanor, up to a $5,000 fine or six months in jail.

Stiver even said Gatlinburg's bear-proof container ordinance should be expanded.

"It may have been good in early 2000. But it needs to be bigger now. We have more people, more bears, and more visitors."

Stiver said getting close is not only dangerous to people, but also deadly to bears as they become more comfortable around humans.

"Those are the bears that result in conflict -- tearing into cars, tearing into tents, and it becomes a real challenge for us to control those animals."

Sometimes Stiver said they end up euthanized.

The park service has only responded to one bear-related call so far this season, but they expect that number to rise around mid-May to August.

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