There have been many reported bear sightings in Bell County this year. Black bears once again roam the southern Appalachian hills — man and beast are having to learn to coexist with each other.
These bears were not reintroduced, but migrated to the area of their own accord. Their population is on the rise, and contact between people and bears has become relatively common from Pineville to Cumberland Gap. They range widely to find enough food to sustain themselves. Any bear encountered should be considered dangerous and treated as so.
Rangers ask that people take precautions to stay safe and keep contact to a minimum.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Ranger Carol Borneman says people can reduce the chances of bear encounters on the homefront by changing up their daily routine just a little.
“One of the things that is probably the most prevalent is people putting their trash out the night before,” said Borneman. “Bears are seen in the day, but they are mostly nocturnal. If people were to put the trash out the morning of pick up that would definitely alleviate a lot of the problem.”
Bears have an acute sense of smell and are drawn to the refuse. It is said they can detect a scent from up to 20 miles away. Borneman further lists bird feeders and an abundance of bird food to draw the bears, as well as food for pets and domestic animals. She also recommended for people to keep their outdoor grills clean.
Borneman says if you see a bear and are able — give it a wide berth and just leave it alone. Never approach a bear, and if one approaches you — never run, but move away slowly. If you do find yourself in the presence of a bear — make a lot of noise to chase it off.
“We want to teach that bear — that it has no right to be where people are” said Borneman. “They have great memories, and we want encounters with people to be distasteful to them. Throw things at it, yell at it — it needs to realize populated areas are no place to be.”
Sometimes bears will “bluff charge” if they feel threatened. If this happens, stand your ground and shout and wave your arms at the bear, but don’t run. If you are attacked by a black bear, try to fight back using any object available. Playing dead does not work with black bears.
Shooting a bear is illegal out of season and without a permit.
Camping, hiking and other outdoor activities are common pursuits in this area. It is advised for nobody to hike or camp alone. In all bear encounters there are some important tips to remember to keep yourself and others safe.
• Look for signs of bear activity like, tracks, scat, or clawed trees and go elsewhere if a bear has been nearby;
• Always pack up all garbage and use bear resistant containers for your food. If you do not have bear resistant containers, then store food where bears can not access it — 13-feet above ground and 10-feet from tree limbs and trunks that can support a bear’s weight;
• Remove all garbage. Bring it out of the woods with you, or dispose of it at an authorized place;
• Never leave food or coolers unattended, even in designated picnic areas;
• Keep your campsite clean and never cook, eat, or store food in your tent. Even items other than food, like suntan lotion, insect repellents, soaps and candles can attract bears.
• Never hike in the dark;
• Do not wear headphones and stay alert;
• If you are with a dog, keep it controlled as an uncontrolled dog may lead a bear to you;
• A whistle, bear spray, or air horn is also advised.
In April, CGNHP offered the “Back the B.E.A.R.S.” program, designed to educate visitors about black bears and their needs. The public is invited to visit the park to acquire free “Back the B.E.A.R.S” materials including information pamphlets on safety and bear proofing, a refrigerator magnet listing precautions and protocol, and a bumper sticker.
If you spot a bear in a populated area, report it.
In Kentucky call 1-800-25ALERT (1-800-252-5378).
For Tennessee contact the Wildlife Resource Agency at 423-587-7037
For Virginia contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at 276-783-4860
Reach William Tribell at 606 302-9100 or on Twitter @wtribellmdn