Black Bears

  • Report a Bear
  • Biology and History
  • Population Management
  • Bear Hunting
  • Coexisting with Bears
  • Bear FAQ
  • Only if the mother is confirmed to be dead or the cub remains alone for more than 36 hours and its estimated weight is less than 30 pounds should the TWRA be contacted. The best situation for a cub is to be with its mother! Therefore, please document when the cub is first observed alone and only contact after 36 hours!

    What does a healthy bear look like?

    A healthy Tennessee Black Bear in a tree. An example of a healthy black bear that is one that is able to eat and move normally in a natural environment.   Bears in Tennessee  and the southeast are primarily black with a long, straight, brown snout but in other parts of the country bears can be black, brown and white.  A healthy male Tennessee black bear can be between 4-7 feet long and weigh as much as 500 lbs!   

    A bear that is exhibiting injuries or behavior that would limit its ability to forage, climb trees or escape danger would be considered injured and warrants a call to TWRA.  A bear that has been struck by a vehicle BUT is able to leave WITHOUT obvious distress or a bear with a simple limp would not be considered injured.

    To learn even more about bears visit, bearwise.org.

    Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

    What does a sick or injured bear look like?

    An example of a black bear with sarcoptic manage

    An injured bear.

    A bear that is exhibiting injuries or behavior that would limit its ability to forage, climb trees or escape danger would be considered injured and warrants a call to TWRA.  A bear that has been struck by a vehicle BUT is able to leave WITHOUT obvious distress or a bear with a simple limp would not be considered injured.

    What does an orphaned cub look like?

    TAKE NOTE!!! A bear cub that is simply alone may not be orphaned! The mother may be nearby but could be unseen for a while. An orphaned cub will be alone and is likely missing patches of fur one top of its head between the ears. While it may not be visible from a distance, they usually have scaly skin that often contains abscesses and their gums are pale from anemia as parasites are removing nutrition from their blood.

    Healthy Cubs

    An image of a healthy black bear cub.

    Unhealthy Cub

    Example of an orphaned cub that is 13 months old and weighs about 8 lbs. A bear this age should weigh between 75-100 lbs. Credit: Appalachian Bear Rescue.

    An image of a health black bear cub.

    This bear cub has a blind eye and is an example of an unhealthy cub.

    An image of a unhealthy black bear cub.

    After reading these descriptions and you are certain the bear is sick, injured or orphaned, find the appropriate
    TWRA office to contact in your area by clicking here.

  • Black Bear Biology and Natural History

    History

    Black bear (Ursus Americanus) historically ranged throughout Tennessee and most of North America. Comparison map of black bear range: historic and late 20 century.

  • Native Americans utilized bears not only for meat and fat, but also for their heavy hides. The first explorers and settlers in Tennessee similarly harvested bears. However, settlers also feared bears and saw them as a threat to livestock and human safety. The healthy bear populations that ranged from the bottomlands of West Tennessee to the mountains of East Tennessee began a slow decline soon after settlers arrived. Extreme changes in Tennessee’s habitat along with unregulated hunting eliminated bear populations from all but 11 mountainous counties (Eiler et al. 1989, Kennedy 1991, Pelton 2001, 2003).

    The creation of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Cherokee National Forest in the 1930’s protected populations and is undeniably the greatest factor for saving bears in Tennessee. In addition, laws were created with the establishment of the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission in 1949. Still, by the mid 1960’s, bear harvest data reflected diminishing bear populations.

    Recovery of Black Bear in Tennessee

    The 1970’s marked the beginning of Tennessee’s modern era. The Tennessee Game and Fish Commission closed the bear hunting season from 1970 through 1972 with hope that the population would rebound.  When the season resumed in 1973, only 16 bears were harvested; 14 of which were killed on the Tellico Wildlife Management Area. Even with the hunting season closure, it was obvious that more extensive management was needed. A report from the 1974 Eastern Workshop on Black Bear Management reported black bear remained in only 10 counties.

    Tri-State Black Bear Study GroupWith the realization that the bear population was a shared resource with the states of North Carolina and Georgia, a multi-state collaboration was needed. This resulted in the formation of the Tri-State Black Bear Study in 1976 (Figure 2). From this study a committee was developed to create a venue to share management and research information among government and research institutions. Decisions made by this group played a pivotal role in the regional bear management success we realize today. The Tri-State Black Bear Study Group, now known as the Southern Appalachian Black Bear Study Group, has added three states (Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia) and continues to meet biannually to share and discuss regional bear issues.

    The early work of the Tri-State Black Bear Study Group defined two primary issues in need of resolve. Both became a priority for TWRA over the next four decades.

    The first included the need to reduce illegal kills. TWRA Wildlife officers spent, and still spend, countless hours working bear enforcement. The largest undercover bear hunting sting in North America took place in the 1980’s. Called Operation Smokey, it resulted in the arrest of 43 individuals in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, with a combined 130 state and federal violations involving the poaching and selling of bear parts. These efforts have continued and resulted in a steady decline in poaching.

    The second issue defined by the Tri-State Black Bear Study was to protect the female segment of the bear populations. Because females hibernate earlier than males, this was accomplished simply by moving hunting season later in the year. This slight change in hunting strategy reduced the percentage of females harvested from 56% before 1981 to 37% over the next 23 years. 

    As populations have continued to respond positively, the agency has provided opportunities for earlier hunting seasons resulting in females making up approximately 40% of the harvest over the last eight years. Further protection of females was accomplished by the establishment of bear sanctuaries, which provided source populations of breeding females in areas with quality bear habitat, suitable for raising young. In addition, no bear hunting, dog training or raccoon hunting is allowed in the reserves during bear seasons. Including the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (241,000 acres) where hunting is prohibited, the reserves contain a total of 450,413 acres in Tennessee.

    Physical Description

    Black bear in Tennessee are primarily black with a straight, brown snout. However other color phases including brown, cinnamon and rust have been noted in the Eastern United States. White patches on the chest can also be present.

    Tenessee Black Bear

    Adult bears can be three feet tall at the shoulder and six feet in length. Black bears vary greatly in weight, depending on food availability and time of year. Weights range between 125 to 600 pounds for adults. Females are generally smaller. The back end of a black bear is normally taller than the front and black bears do not have a hump at the shoulder, like their cousin the grizzly bear.

    Black bears have average eyesight, fantastic hearing and an amazing sense of smell. Thought to be one of the best noses in the animal kingdom, their smell is 100 times greater than our own and seven times greater than a bloodhound.

    Although cumbersome looking, bears are great swimmers and capable of running at burst of 30 miles an hour. Black bear are very dexterous and strong. They have been seen unscrewing lids of jars and easily tearing open metal containers to reach food.

  • Black bears are considered crepuscular animals. That is, they are most active at dawn and dusk; although they can be active any time in areas where humans are less common. Bears bed down on the hottest of days, in cooler safe locations. Healthy, normal bears avoid humans and areas around human dwellings.

    Denning

    Black bears use a variety of places to den including hollow trees, under boulders, tree roots and fallen trees. Occurrences of denning in shallow depressions have also been documented. Denning starts as early as November and ends as late as May. Females tend to begin hibernation earlier than males. In years of high mast production, bears can enter dens later. Bears do not eat, urinate or defecate during hibernation. They also reduce their heart rate and breathing.

    Feeding

    Although listed as a carnivore, black bears are primarily omnivorous feeding on seasonally abundant foods. Bear diets include berries, fruits, nuts, insects, roots, grasses, small rodents, bird eggs and carrion. Acorns comprise much of and are a significant food source in the late season diet of black bears in Tennessee. Bears, like many other wild animals, are opportunistic and look for effortless calories. They easily become habituated to human food.

    Reproduction

    Both male and female bears reach sexual maturity around three and a half years of age. Mating occurs in late spring to early summer and cubs are generally born in January. Female bears typically practice embryonic diapause, or delayed implantation of a fertilized egg. This allows females to extend gestation until they are in prime physical condition. Implantation generally occurs in the fall with young born in January or February.

    Cubs weigh just ounces at birth, and they’re born blind without fur. They grow rapidly in the den and can weigh over five pounds upon spring emergence. Bears give birth to between one to five cubs, with two being the norm. Litters are produced every other year. Cubs stay with their mother for the first season and spend a second winter with her. Upon emergence in the second spring, mother bears drive offspring away. Young females don’t go far, often establishing territories that overlap with their mother’s. However young males move farther away to establish territories.

    Signs and Tracks 

    Because black bear are larger creatures, tracks and signs are often distinguishable.

    • Tracks: The front foot of a black bear can measure from just under four inches to over eight inches long. The rear track can measure from five to almost nine inches long. Bear claws are long and always tend to register in their tracks. Black bears are plantigrade, meaning they walk on the entire foot.
    • Black bear scat: varies greatly depending on seasonal diet. Sometimes mistaken for horse manure, it is large in size. Unlike horse manure, bear scat can reveal a diet consisting of various nuts, seeds, berries and grasses.
    • Black bears bed: in varied terrain throughout Tennessee, but they tend to use dense cover and thicker vegetation. They sometimes built next to good climbing trees. Beds are round or oval and during colder months might contain materials such as leaves and branches which provide protection from the cold ground.
    • Black bears den: in a variety of places including under root systems, caves, rock outcrops, dense thickets and tree hollows. They’ve also been known to utilize areas under porches, decks and culverts. Natural den site entrances vary greatly, but are often between 18 to 24 inches.
    • Black bear scent post, rubs, claw or bite signs: include a variety of tree species and sometimes even manmade structures such as telephone poles. Contrary to some beliefs, they are not signs of aggressiveness in bears, but simply means of communication. These signs are often located near bedding and feeding locations. Sign posts note the territory, mating status and overall health of a bear.
    • Food Cache: Black bears can kill other animals for food, if the opportunity arises. They will also feed on carrion. If the meal isn’t consumed in whole, bears most often cover it with available, surrounding materials such as grass or leaves. Black bears sometimes pull bark off of trees to reach or find food. Stumps pulled apart, logs or rocks flipped over and digging can show signs of bears foraging for food.

    Where To Find Bears In Tennessee

    Bear Range Map of Tennessee

    2005 Bait Station Surveys

    Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July 2005 in 12 East Tennessee counties by 31 TWRA personnel. A total of 27 areas were surveyed that consisted of 408 bait sites. Bears visited 235 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 57.6%. This was a decline of approximately 5% from the previous year. Of the 27 areas surveyed, 59% (n=16) showed declines in visitation rates. Furthermore, all counties reported declines in visitation rates except for Blount.

    Bear Bait Station Map

    2006 Bait Station Surveys

    Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July in 12 East Tennessee counties by 28 TWRA personnel. A total of 28 areas were surveyed that consisted of 424 bait sites. Bears visited 267 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 63%. This was an increase of approximately 5% from the previous year. Of the 28 areas surveyed, 64% (n=18) showed an increase in visitation rate. Furthermore, all counties except Carter, Polk, and Washington reported increases in visitation rates.

    2007 Bait Station Surveys

    Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July in 11 east Tennessee counties by 28 Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency personnel, interns, and volunteers. A total of 28 areas were surveyed that consisted of 418 bait sites. Bears visited 301 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 72%. This was an increase of 9% from the previous year. Of the 28 areas surveyed, 71% (n=20) showed an increase in visitation rate. Furthermore, all counties except Monroe and Unicoi reported increases in visitation rates.

    2008 Bait Station Surveys

    Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July in 11 east Tennessee counties by 26 Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency personnel, interns, and volunteers. A total of 29 areas were surveyed that consisted of 435 bait sites. Bears visited 243 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 56%. This was a decrease of 16% from the previous year. Of the 29 areas surveyed, 59% (n=17) showed a decrease in visitation rate. Furthermore, all counties except Unicoi and Washington reported decreases in visitation rates.

    2009 Bait Station Surveys

    Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July in 11 east Tennessee counties by >25 Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency personnel, interns, and volunteers. A total of 29 areas were surveyed that consisted of 423 bait sites. Bears visited 280 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 70%. This was an increase of 14.1% from the previous year but similar to 2007. Of the 29 areas surveyed, 55% (n=16) showed an increase in visitation rate. Furthermore, all counties except Sullivan and Unicoi reported increases in visitation rates.

  • Black Bear Population Management

    RANGE

    Tennessee has two main black bear populations: the Appalachian Population along the Tennessee-North Carolina border and the Cumberland Population in the northern part of the Cumberland Plateau along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Because black bears are very mobile and travel across state lines, we not only manage a Tennessee black bear population, but a shared population with many neighboring states. Collectively, this interstate population is known as the Southeastern Black Bear Population, and is shared with Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia.

    DISTRIBUTION

    Tennessee Bear population map

    Bear populations in Tennessee are growing, and re-colonization of former range continues.

    This map shows the current distribution (annual and seasonal) of black bears in Tennessee.

    Long-term Occupied is defined as areas where there have been sustainable populations of black bears for many years. Sightings can be expected during any time of the year.

    Recently Re-established is defined as areas where populations have been re-established within historical range and sustainable populations have become, or are expected to become established in the short-term. Evidence of reproduction has been documented. Seasonal/Transitional is defined as areas where bear sightings can be expected during the spring or late summer when bears are roaming in the search of food or establishment of home ranges. Proximity of an area to long-term occupied or recently re-established populations impacts frequency of these sightings.

    Infrequent Transient is defined as areas where random bear sightings may occur at any given time. Sightings are not related to proximity to long-term occupied or recently re-established populations.

    RESEARCH

    Tri-State Black Bear Study Group between Tennessee,  North Carolina and Georgia in 1976.

    As black bear populations dwindled into the mid-twentieth century, research and recovery efforts were initiated with hopes of restoring populations. A black bear study in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 1969 as a cooperative endeavor with the University of Tennessee and is the longest ongoing black bear study in the U.S. 

    This research coincided with the creation of the Tri-State Black Bear Study Group between Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia in 1976.

    The early work of this group identified two primary issues: 1) Enforcement of game laws to reduce illegal kills and 2) Protection of the female segment of the population. Over the next four decades these two goals were made a priority of the TWRA as well.

    The TWRA strives to reach these goals by:

    1. Wildlife officers spent, and still spend, countless hours working bear enforcement. In 1988, Operation Smoky resulted in the arrest of 43 individuals in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina who were charged with 130 state and federal violations involving the poaching and selling of bear parts.
    2. Protection of females during hunting season was accomplished relatively easily by identifying that females typically begin hibernation earlier than males and by simply scheduling hunts later in the season. This simple change in hunting strategy reduced the percentage of females in the harvest from 56% before 1981 to 37% over the next 23 years. As populations have continued to respond positively, TWRA has provided opportunities for earlier seasons resulting in females making up approximately 40% of the harvest over the last eight years. Additional protection of females was realized by the establishment of bear reserves with the purpose of establishing a source population of breeding females that would be protected from hunting. In addition to no bear hunting, no dog training or raccoon hunting is allowed in the reserves during bear seasons. Including the GSMNP (241,000 acres) where hunting is prohibited, there are a total of 450,413 acres of bear sanctuaries in Tennessee.

    POPULATION ESTIMATE

    Monitoring of a large carnivore can be extremely time consuming and expensive. Traditionally, the Agency has used bait stations to monitor trends. Unfortunately, sensitivity to population changes will diminish with this index as visits reach high percentages on an annual basis.Tennessee Black Bear Population and Annual Bear Harvest Chart.

    Most recently, TWRA has utilized population reconstruction to estimate population trends. This chart supports evidence that the bear population in Tennessee continues to grow.

    In order to minimize biases associated with population models, TWRA uses multiple harvest descriptors to estimate the bear population including tooth collection and numbers of male and female bears harvested.

    The success of this method revolves around tooth collection and TWRA encourages hunters to collect and submit as many bear teeth as possible. In 2013, TWRA personnel collected teeth from over 25% of harvested bears. Not sure how to collect the right tooth? Watch this video to learn how! https://www.twra.tv/video/watch/56747e2c3438c09f289a405c

    In areas not open to hunting, bait stations, sightings, road kills, and depredation permits are utilized to monitor population trends.

    Black Bear Reserves

    Appalachian Population: Bear Reserves totaling over 450,000 acres have without a doubt played a significant role in the recovery of bear numbers in the Appalachian Population.

    Bear Reserve Acreage
        Acreage
    Reserve Hunt Zone Total Public Private
    Andrew Johnson 1 17,280 16,918 362
    Kettlefoot 1 59,638 38,704 20,934
    Laurel Fork 1 55,608 32,146 23,462
    Ocoee 3 56,465 53,295 3,170
    Tellico 3 22,957 22,957  
    Unicoi 1 38,906 38,906  
      Total: 250,854 202,926 47,928

     

    Andrew Johnson Bear Reserve

    An image of the northern most part of the Tennessee Black Bear Reserves

    The Cherokee Wildlife Management Area and private inholdings lying southwest of Hwy. 70 east of Hwy. 107 and north of Hwy's. 25-70.

    Kettlefoot Bear Reserve

    The Cherokee Wildlife Management Area and private inholdings lying north of Hwy. 421, east of South Holston Lake, south of the Tennessee-Virginia state line, and west of Hwy. 91.

    Laurel Fork Bear Reserve

    The Cherokee Wildlife Management Area and private inholdings lying south of Hwy. 321, west of Poga Road, west of the Tennessee-North Carolina state line, and north or Hwy. 19E.

    Unicoi Bear Reserve

    The Cherokee Wildlife Management Area lying west of U.S. Hwy. 23, and the Devils Fork Road, north of the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, east of the Horse Creek Road to Hwy. 107 and south of Hwy. 107 to Erwin.

    Ocoee Bear Reserve An image of the southern most region of the Tennessee Black Bear Sanctuaries

    The Cherokee Wildlife Management Area and private inhodings bounded on the north by the Ocoee Lake and Ocoee River, on the south by the Tennessee/Georgia state line and on the east and west by the National Forest Boundary.

    Tellico Bear Reserve

    The Cherokee Wildlife Management Area in Monroe County that lies north of the Tellico-Robbinsville Road, east of Forest Service Road 35, south of the Forest Service Road 26 and west of the ridge running from Farr Gap through Little Fodderstack to Big Fodderstack and
    following the North Carolina state line to the 
    Tellico-Robbinsville Road.

  • Tennessee Black Bear Hunting

    Refer to the TENNESSEE HUNTING AND TRAPPING GUIDE for more information.

    An old image of a bear hunt

    • Bear Limit: One (1) bear either sex per year.
    • Cubs or female bears with cubs at side may not be taken at any time. A cub is defined as any bear weighing seventy-five (75) pounds or less.
    • All harvested bears must be checked out at an official checking station. Bears MAY NOT be checked in via the Internet or with the TWRA mobile application.
    • Bears may be whole or field dressed, but must weigh 75 pounds or greater when checked in.
    • The reproductive sex organs shall remain attached to each bear harvested at least until the bear has been officially checked out at an official bear checking station.

    For physical checking station locations, go to www.tnwildlife.org or download the TWRA ON THE GO mobile application

    Bear Hunting Zones

    For the purpose of these hunting regulations and better wildlife management, the State of Tennessee is hereby divided into five (5) bear hunt zones (BHZ’s) as follows:

    BHZ1: Carter, Cocke (North of I-40), Greene, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, & Washington.
    BHZ2: Blount, Cocke (South of I-40), Jefferson (East of Hwy 411), Sevier
    BHZ3: McMinn (East of Hwy 411), Monroe, Polk (East of Hwy 411 & North of Hwy 64)
    BHZ4: Cumberland (North of I-40), Fentress, Morgan, Pickett (East of Hwy 111), & Scott (West of Hwy 27)
    Transitional: Bradley, Hamblen, Hamilton (East of TN River), Hancock, Hawkins, Grainger, Jefferson (west of Hwy 411), Knox, Loudon, McMinn (West of Hwy 411), & Polk (West of Hwy 411)

    Prohibited Acts

    Old image of a Tennessee bear hunt.
    • Hunting private property without landowners permission.
    • Hunting prohibited over a site where bait has been placed to feed or attract wildlife unless the bait has been removed at least 10 days prior to hunting.
    • It is illegal to hunt, shoot at, chase, or kill any wild animal, wild bird, or wildfowl from a public road right-of-way, or from any motorized vehicle, or to shoot any firearms across or from any public road or vehicle.

    Hunting Bear Reserves

    Bear hunting is not permitted in bear reserves unless a special exception is provided by proclamation.

    Taking Wild Hogs During Bear Dog Hunts

    Individuals licensed to hunt bears may take wild hogs during any proclaimed bear-dog hunt.

  • What is human-bear conflict?

    Examples of human-bear conflicts include:

    • A bear that has attacked or is stalking a human
    • A bear that is unfearful of humans or has caused property damage
    • A bear that has entered a vehicle, dwelling, or inhabited building
    • A bear that is habituated to non-natural foods
    • A bear that does not leave an area when humans are present

    After reading these descriptions and you are certain the bear is sick, injured or orphaned, find the appropriate
    TWRA office to contact in your area by clicking here.

    YOUR Responsibility for Black Bears!

    Black bears are one of Tennessee’s state treasures and no other animal exemplifies the wilderness experience like them. They have been called a charismatic mega-fauna and for good reason – everyone from non-hunters, to hunters, to wildlife watchers - we all love bears in our own special ways. For these reasons, it is everyone’s responsibility to keep them wild and keep them alive.

    The age-old adages: GARBAGE KILLS BEARS and A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR could not be truer. 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. 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 deliberate and accidental feeding of bears is socially irresponsible and causes animals to become conditioned and habituated to people. Bears that habituate to human presence eventually become a threat to human safety. The end result is that such bears are often killed by intolerant and/or fearful landowners or have to be destroyed by the TWRA.

    The primary corrective action to this management dilemma is to simply restrict the access bears have to human foods. However, state and federal agencies have confronted significant challenges in bringing about even moderate changes to human behavior to achieve greater safety for humans and bears. Tennessee residents and visitors can support bears by taking steps to ensure that wild bears remain “wild” by carefully managing sources of human food or garbage that might attract bears. The wise stewardship of habitat we share with bears is the joint responsibility of both wildlife managers and the public and will be essential for a viable future for our state treasure, the black bears of Tennessee.

    How to Bear Proof Your Property

    Do not give your pet more food than they can eat or the bears will finish it for them!

    Only feed pets a portion that will be completely consumed during each meal and securely store pet foods!!!

    Do not feed birds or other wildlife where bears are active.

    Photo Credit: Appalachian Bear Rescue

    Tennessee Black Bears eating from a bird feeder.
    Black bear in the garbage.

    Do not store food, garbage or recyclables in areas accessible to bears.

    Keep grills and smokers clean and stored in a secure area when not in use.

    grill

    Encountering Black Bears

    To learn about what to do when encountering a bear while Hiking and Camping visit, bearwise.org.

    THINGS TO KNOW:

    • While black bears are usually tolerant of humans, they should always be treated as wild animals, whether in residential or backcountry areas.
    • Black bears are rarely aggressive towards people and typically go out of their way to avoid contact, however as human development continues and bear numbers increase, occasional interactions will be unavoidable.
    • Black bears are extremely powerful animals whose behaviors can be unpredictable.
    • Black bears are very curious animals and this should not be confused with aggression.
    • Startled bears will often confront intruders by turning sideways to appear larger, make woofing and teeth clacking sounds, salivate, lay their ears back and slap the ground with their paws. These are warnings for you to leave the area.
    • Bears will often stand on their hind legs to get a better view or a better sense of hearing and smelling.

    Following these simple guidelines will minimize many unnecessary and potentially dangerous encounters.

    • Never feed or approach bears!
    • If a bear approaches you in the wild, it is probably trying to assess your presence.
    • If you see a black bear from a distance, alter your route of travel, return the way you came, or wait until it leaves the area.
    • Make your presence known by yelling and shouting at the bear in an attempt to scare it away.
    • If approached by a bear, stand your ground, raise your arms to appear larger, yell and throw rocks or sticks until it leaves the area.
    • When camping in bear country, keep all food stored in a vehicle and away from tents.
    • Never run from a black bear! This will often trigger its natural instinct to chase.
    • If a black bear attacks, fight back aggressively and do not play dead! Use pepper spray, sticks, rocks, or anything you can find to defend yourself. If cornered or threatened, bears may slap the ground, “pop” their jaws, or “huff” as a warning. If you see these behaviors, you are too close! Slowly back away while facing the bear at all times.

    Notify the TWRA immediately if you witness aggressive behavior by black bears!

    Find the appropriate TWRA office to contact in your area by clicking here.

    Black Bears in Town

    As bear and human populations increase and more people move near public lands and bear inhabited areas, bear-human interactions are increasing creating potentially dangerous situations. To learn more about coexisting with bears, go to the Bear Wise Website. You can also help prevent safety concerns by following these Bear Wise Basics:

    • 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 a portion size they will completely consume during each meal and securely store pet foods.
    • Keep grills and smokers clean and stored in a secure area when not in use.
    • Talk to family and neighbors when bear activity is occurring in your area.

    What to do if a bear approaches you in town:

    • Bears will almost always find an escape route if they are left alone.
    • Shout and throw sticks or rocks in the vicinity of bear to encourage flight once an escape route has been established.
    • Females with cubs will often climb a tree to for escape cover; never surround a tree holding any bear, especially a female with cubs!
    • Locate and remove the lure that caused the bear to come into your area. There is almost always a safe escape route when bears enter towns. Crowd control is the initial concern as the behavior of a cornered bear can be unpredictable. Immediately report to the TWRA or local police any sightings of bears within areas of human population centers.

    Local and State laws for reducing bear-human conflicts

    As it stands, other than hunting over baited areas, there are no statewide laws against the intentional or unintentional feeding of wildlife including bears. However, in one Tennessee town, state laws and local ordinances exist to help keep bears wild, thus keeping them alive:

    Gatlinburg Black Bear Laws

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    On several occasions I have seen a bear around my house. Is this normal?

    In many areas of Tennessee, it is fairly common to bears near human dwellings during the spring and summer months. This time of year natural foods may be limited and bears could be looking for an easy meal. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and are likely being lured by some type of food attractant. These attractants typically include garbage, pet food, and birdfeeders. The best thing to do is identify the attractant and remove the source. Bears will move on after realizing there is no food to be obtained.

     

    What can I do to if I have a bear getting into my garbage and making a mess of my yard?

    The first thing to realize is that the bear is simply going after an easy meal. Almost all of these types of problems can be eliminated by simply removing the attractant. Store garbage in a closed structure and put it out the morning of garbage pickup, not the night before. This way, garbage does not sit out overnight and lure bears into your area. Problems may be further addressed by purchasing or constructing a bear-resistant garbage container.

     

    Are black bears dangerous?

    Black bears are normally very elusive and shy animals… and unless they have become accustomed to human food sources, they tend to avoid people. Bears are very curious animals, however, and this should not be mistaken for aggression. Prevent any conflicts by treating bears with respect as they are wild animals whose behaviors can be unpredictable.

     

    What should I do if I encounter a bear at close range?

    The first rule is that you want to make your presence known by yelling and shouting at the bear in an attempt to scare it away. If a bear is reluctant to leave then proceed to throw rocks or other objects at the bear while continuing to yell. Portray yourself as the dominant animal and do not back down. If a bear is close enough that you feel uncomfortable, slowly back away, continuing to yell while watching the bear at all times. Never run from a black bear as this may trigger a natural response to chase.

     

    If a black bear is approaching me, should I throw it food and run?

    No!  Throwing food will likely only compound the problem and running from a black bear will likely trigger a natural instinct to chase.  In addition, bears are extremely powerful animals that run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour in short distances. Make your presence known by yelling at the bear and slowly back away without turning your back.  In the event of an attack, fight back using everything in your power - including fists, sticks, rocks, or any other debris.  Do not play dead!

     

    What is so wrong with feeding bears?

    Despite what some people think, black bears do not naturally occur in trashcans or a person’s backyard in the middle of town.  Animals exhibiting those behaviors are doing so because they have either been fed or have learned to feed on improperly stored garbage or pet food.  When bears are intentionally fed, they learn to associate people with food and lose their natural fear of humans.

    The home range of black bears can exceed 80 square miles.  If you feed a bear in your backyard, that animal is eventually going to leave and may travel to a house 10 or 20 miles away.  The bear will again expect to be fed… because you have taught it to associate people with food.  At that point, the safety of other people becomes a concern because they may have absolutely no interest in having a bear in their yard. Even worse, their new “problem” is of absolutely no fault of their own but they are left to deal with the consequences.

     

    If I have a bear getting into garbage in my neighborhood, wouldn’t the simplest thing be to just trap the bear and move it someplace else?

    While relocation is an option to the immediate issue, it will not solve the underlying problem.  Unless garbage is properly stored, another bear will move in and the problem will start all over again.  In addition, black bears have an incredible homing instinct and can travel amazing distances in relatively short periods of time.  Research has shown that even bears that have been trapped and moved 10, 20 even 55 air miles away can still find their way home.  Ultimately, relocating bears is not an effective long-term management tool.  Instead, the proper storage of human-related foods and never feeding bears is the key.

     

    Why is it that nuisance complaints always seem to rise in April and peak in the summer?

    Black bears den for the winter months and typically emerge in late March or early April.  When they emerge from dens, natural foods are scarce and often bears are lured by the smell of human-related foods.

    Nuisance reports peak in June and July for two reasons.  Number one, that is the breeding season for bears and males are traveling great distances in search of females.  In doing so, they have increased opportunities to encounter human dwellings.  Secondly, yearling bears are now on their own trying to establish a suitable home range.  In their travels, young bears may also be lured by the smell of human foods.

     

    What should I do if I see someone feeding a bear?

    Feeding bears is absolutely the worst thing that people can do to ensure a bear’s death.  Fed bears lose their natural fear of people and become habituated to humans.  Consequently, habituated bears live shorter lives than “wild” bears as they tend to die by vehicle collision or poaching by spending so much time around human dwellings.  In addition, people who feed bears are teaching those animals to associate people with food.  Would you want a bear like that coming around your house?