Bear Safety – What to do if You Encounter a Bear

bears on car

In light of recent reports of an aggressive bear near Mt. LeConte this week, its not a bad idea to go over bear safety once more.

Black bears are a big attraction here in the Smoky Mountains. They are beautiful and generally peaceful animals that would really rather avoid contact with humans. But make no mistake – they are wild animals and can severely injure or even kill a human! Unfortunately, many bears in our area have lost their natural fear of humans because they have been fed by uninformed but well-meaning tourists who want to lure the bears closer for photos. This creates a very dangerous situation not just for people but for the bears as well. They can become “habituated” to human food, meaning that once they get a taste of it, they want more – lots more – and will do just about anything to get it! While it is unlikely you will encounter a bear at your Watershed Cabin, your travels in the area may indeed take you into bear country. Here are some bear-safety rules you want to keep in mind:

1) Never feed or toss any food to a black bear or any wild animal. Make sure that food and trash cans are secure inside your cabin. If you are eating outdoors, the deck or picnic area free and clean of all food and scraps; including fruit rinds and cores, paper and plastic bags that contained food and even aluminum foil since the scent of food is a strong attracter of black bears. It is also a good rule to thoroughly clean plates, cups and silverware as soon as you are finished eating and to clean picnic tables and other eating surfaces immediately as well. Do not leave any food, coolers or backpacks that contain food unattended.

2) Keep children and pets or service animals under strict control. Do not leave them unattended. Since they are less threatening to a black bear than an adult human, this can be an accident waiting to happen.

3) Keep the bear at as great a distance as possible. If the bear notices you and changes its behavior such as feeding or the direction in which it is moving, you are too close! Back away slowly from the bear and make lots of noise. Many hikers choose to carry a “Bear Bell” to alert bears to their presence. While a Bear Bell may reduce the likelihood of an encounter, it is not guaranteed!

5) A bear can run, climb or swim faster than any human. If backing away from the bear does not work and making as much noise as possible to intimidate the bear does not work, fight back using any objects you can find around you such as rocks, branches, etc. You should stand up tall, and wave your hands in the air, shout and act aggressively. Playing dead is a last resort and may still allow serious injury to anyone doing so. It is now legal to carry and use Bear Pepper Spray in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Bear Pepper Spray can reach from 12-32 feet and can be an effective tool to deter an attacking bear.

6) Recent studies suggest that the more people in your party the lower the chance of a black bear attack. It seems that the magic statistical number where bear attacks virtually stop is 5.

7) The Great Smoky Mountain National Park asks that you report any bear attacks or incidents to a national park ranger at once. In areas outside the park, aggressive back bear behavior should be reported as well to 911.

Feeding bears directly or indirectly is the cause of most black bear problems in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding areas. Responsible “bear proof” behavior is required at all times in areas where bears may be present..

“If you lose your food to a bear; that may ruin a trip for you, but even worse is that you’ve helped make a bear grow bolder toward human food. The bear may become so bold that it finally has to be destroyed, and that’s sad.”                    – Michelle Gagnon, Park Ranger

So, don’t be the cause of a bear-related injury! Follow these rules to ensure a safe, bear-free trip and the safety of both the bears and the people who visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

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