If you've been in the Park recently, you may have noticed more bears than usual. According to Smokies Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver the reasons for recent increases in bear/people encounters and bear activity in general are basically 2 fold-
1) This summer's berry crop has been poor. In the low elevations where berries have already come and gone, the blackberry crop was subpar, producing berries that were small and few in numbers. The berry season that seems to be in an arrested state of development with very few blackberries ripe in the high elevation, and almost no huckleberries or blueberries to speak of.
Typically during the break between summer berries and the fall hard mast black bears, especially in Cades Cove, have cherries to help get them through this lull, but there also seem to be few if any cherries ripe.
2) Two seasons ago we had a fall mast crop failure, which meant that few females gave birth to cubs the following season. This put most of females on the same birth year cycle. Last year the fall mast crop was good. Therefore, this season a very high percentage of females have cubs, which only adds to the stress of the food situation.
Diminished availability of food often results in increased visibility of bears in both the front and backcountry areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Here's what we all can do to be responsible users of our national park, and help protect park bears. Always remember- A fed bear is a dead bear. Let's make sure we don't contribute to bears becoming habituated to humans or our food and garbage.
- Keep campgrounds, picnic areas, parking lots, and roadside pullouts clean and litter free.
- Know before you go! Check the Park's website to see which backcountry sites and trails are closed because of increased bear activity. www.nps.gov/grsm
- Spread the word. Share this message with others you know who visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Help raise awareness of the need to use our park safely and responsibly.
- Never leave your backpack unattended. When in the backcountry, use the food storage cables at all of the backcountry camping sites and shelters. Do not leave empty backpacks or gear (which still smell like food to hungry bears) inside shelters or on the ground.
- When day hiking, if you take a break from the trail, do not leave your backpack unattended.
You can help by reporting significant bear activity in our national park to the staff at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you observe any of the following behaviors while in the Park, please report them immediately to rangers or volunteers at Sugarlands Visitors Center, Oconaluftee Visitors Center, or Cades Cove Visitors Center-
1) any bear in a developed area (day or night) such as a campground, picnic area, backcountry campsite, horse camp, etc. BE SPECIFIC about the location or campsite.
2) bears harassing or following people along a trail. BE SPECIFIC about the trail name and any significant information about the location along the trail if possible.
3) sick or injured bears,
4) dumpsters tipped over, or
5) any other type of unusual observation/behavior.