(WJHL) – After a 500-pound black bear was relocated away from its Greene County home, Tri-Cities residents may be wondering just what they should have done if they ran into that bear, or another one, themselves.
Your best bet, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) says, is to make sure you don’t see a bear in the first place.
The TWRA has found that black bear populations are on the rise in Tennessee, and as cities expand into previously wild areas, the chance increases for bears to get accustomed to human environments and decide to stick around. The main reason a black bear might decide to stay close to humans is access to food.
“The survival rate of bears receiving food from people is likely a fraction of that of wild bears that do not have repeated contact with humans,” the TWRA’s website says. “The deliberate and accidental feeding of bears is socially irresponsible and causes animals to become conditioned and habituated to people.”
Habituated bears, like the one found in Greene County, are more than happy to steal human food and trash and can often grow to larger sizes. While this may sound good for the bear, those nutrients come at a cost.
“The age-old adages: ‘Garbage kills bears’ and ‘A fed bear is a dead bear’ could not be truer,” the site reads. “Nationwide bear management experience has clearly shown that bears attracted to human food sources, or that are deliberately fed by humans, have a relatively short life.”
To keep local bear populations healthy and away from humans, the TWRA recommends following a strict trash and food policy:
- Never feed or approach bears.
- Do not store food, garbage or other recyclables in areas accessible to bears.
- Do not feed birds or other wildlife where bears are active.
- Feed outdoor pets in portions small enough to eat in one sitting.
- Keep grills and smokers clean and secure.
Even if all guidelines are followed, it doesn’t mean a bear can’t wander onto your property or into natural areas that you happen to be as well. In that case, the National Parks Service (NPS) recommends the following:
- Let the bear know you’re there – Make noises or speak calmly to the bear to make sure it knows you aren’t a prey animal. Traveling in groups can alert a bear early, and encourage it to leave. NPS says to stay still and stand your ground, but slowly wave your arms to remind it that you’re nearby.
- Do not panic – Screaming, sudden movement or running can trigger a bear’s instincts and make it believe you are a prey animal. Small children should be picked up immediately.
- Make yourself look large – Lift your arms over your head and keep backpacks on if possible. Backpacks containing food should not be given to the bear, as it may encourage it to confront others.
- Avoid confrontation – DO NOT place yourself between a bear and its avenue of escape, or between a mother bear and her cubs. Back away slowly, without turning away from the bear. If it follows you, NPS says to stop and stand your ground.
- Inform authorities – Call local wildlife authorities to inform them of the encounter. This may not be the first or last time that bear has interacted with humans.
In the event of an attack, recommendations vary depending on the species. In Northeast Tennessee, black bears are the only documented bear species in the wild. To survive a black bear attack, NPS recommends doing the following:
- Do Not Play Dead – Try to escape to a secure place like a car or building. If you cannot escape, NPS says to fight back using any object available.
- Use Bear Spray – If you have bear spray, keep it accessible on the outside of your bag or belt. Begin spraying when the bear is around 30-60 feet away. Spray a cloud in front of the bear’s path so it must charge through the irritant.
- Fight Back – If the bear is within striking distance, concentrate kicks and blows on the bear’s face and muzzle.
Again, people are advised to avoid contact with bears whenever possible.