Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers issued a citation to visitors responsible for feeding a bear peanut butter in Cades Cove. Rangers learned about the incident after witnesses provided video documentation. Following an investigation, the visitors confessed and were issued a citation on Thursday, June 5.
“Managing wild bears in a park that receives more than 12 million visitors is an extreme challenge and we must have the public’s help,” said Park Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver. “It is critical that bears never be fed or approached – for their protection and for human safety.”
Prior to the incident, the 100-pound male bear had been feeding on walnuts for several weeks along the Cades Cove Loop Road. The bear started to exhibit food-conditioned behavior leading wildlife biologists to suspect the bear had been fed. Biologists captured the bear, tranquilized it, and marked it with an ear tag before releasing it on site in the same general area. Through aversive conditioning techniques such as this, rangers discourage bears from frequenting parking areas, campgrounds, and picnic areas where they may be tempted to approach vehicles in search of food. This includes scaring bears from the roadside using loud sounds or discharging paint balls.
Park officials remind visitors about precautions they should take while observing bears to keep themselves and bears safe. Until the summer berries ripen, natural foods are scarce. Visitors should observe bears from a distance of at least 50 yards and allow them to forage undisturbed. Bears should never be fed.
While camping or picnicking in the park, visitors must properly store food and secure garbage. Coolers should always be properly stored in the trunk of a vehicle when not in use. All food waste should be properly disposed to discourage bears from approaching people.
Hikers are reminded to take necessary precautions while in bear country including hiking in groups of 2 or more, carrying bear spray, complying with all backcountry closures, properly following food storage regulations, and remaining at a safe viewing distance from bears at all times. Feeding, touching, disturbing, or willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, is illegal in the park.
If approached by a bear, park officials recommend slowly backing away to put distance between yourself and the animal, creating space for it to pass. If the bear continues to approach, you should not run. Hikers should make themselves look large, stand their ground as a group, and throw rocks or sticks at the bear. If attacked by a black bear, rangers strongly recommend fighting back with any object available and remember that the bear may view you as prey. Though rare, attacks on humans do occur, causing injuries or death.
For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, please visit the park website at www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/black-bears.htm. To report a bear incident in the park, please call 865-436-1230.
For more information about how to be Bear Wise, please visit www.bearwise.org. Local residents are reminded to keep residential garbage secured and to remove any other attractants such as bird feeders and pet foods from their yards. To report a bear incident outside of the park, please call Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency or North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.