TWRA reports increase in bear sightings across Northeast Tennessee

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NORTHEAST TENNESSEE (WJHL) The COVID-19 pandemic is not only taking a toll on humans, but wildlife.

Surveillance video taken Tuesday shows a bear digging through garbage cans outside of a Kingsport home.

It is encounters like this that officials said we can expect to see more of.

After campgrounds were closed for months, bears are now on the hunt for food in towns.

Many Northeast Tennesseans are witnessing bears on the prowl as female bears and their cubs emerge from hibernation. Wildlife experts advice to remain cautious when on the trails or in the woods because a bear can smell you long before you even know it is in the area.

Just like your average hiker, trails are a bear’s favorite hangout.

“They know areas where there’s not as much hunting pressure or there’s not as many people present,” Cherokee National Forest district ranger, Leslie Morgan said “Bears are fisherman also. They like to fish in these creeks as well. It wouldn’t be a surprise to be hiking along and to see a bear splashing around in the creek and maybe looking for a trout or crawfish.”

That is why Morgan said hikers should not leave food or they could come face-to-face with one.

“If you do see the bear, make sure it sees you. If it’s behaving normally– maybe it’s digging in a log, undigging grubs or something like that and eating those– just make sure that you make a lot of noise. If you got a whistle, blow your whistle, yell at it. ‘Hey, bear. Whatever you need to do to get its attention. Most cases, it’s going to take off running because it has no desire to interact with you,” Morgan said.

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“That’s how they end up in people’s trashcans, in bird-feeders,” Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesperson, Matthew Cameron said. “When we walk by a smoker or a grill that’s not even being used at the time, you’ll pick up the odors of the food that has been cooked on it. You can imagine if you’ve had a nose like a bear, how good that would smell to you and that would pull them in for miles away.”

Cameron told Pheben Kassahun the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has received an influx of calls about bear sightings; most have been near homes. He said bears are just looking for easy meals since berries are not in season for another few weeks.

“Like blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, dogwood berries, cherries, grapes– any of those kinds of things are very attractive to bears,” Cameron said. “We just want folks to be vigilant until that time because when the berries do get ripe, the bears will normally get back into the more rural areas, and leave the urban areas.”

Morgan adds never intentionally feed a bear or never get too close, wherever you are.

Morgan said, “They’ll do a thing that’s called ‘bluff charging’. They’ll run at your but they won’t necessarily attack you. They’ll huff and they’ll swap the ground and pop their jaws. That’s a warning to you that you are too close. If a bear does that to you, it’s better to slowly back away.”

If a bear is possibly following you, stay still until it goes away, Morgan said.

“That’s where you really need to stay together as a group, make yourself look as big as possible, make a lot of noise, but do not run from the bear because that triggers their innate instinct to chase,” Morgan said. “If a bear actually makes contact with you, it’s better to protect your head and neck, curl up in a fetal position. Protect your head and neck as much as you can and hope for the best.”

“You can carry weapons in the Cherokee National Forest, as long as you have your permit, she said.

Morgan said bear spray is your best bet on protecting yourself from a bear. She advised that you take not of which way the wind is blowing if you have to use the spray because you could risk having the contents sprayed onto you.

She said never spray it around your campsite because it can actually attract bears.

“If a bear is causing you damage, trying to get inside your home or inside a vehicle, or doing other property damage, that’s something that our offices want to know about as well. They’re more than likely to try to come out and help with the situation,” Cameron said.

For more information on bears, BearWise is a website with a wealth of information regarding living responsibly with bears.

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