Monday, October 22, 2007

Black bears are very active in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Although there have been no recent attacks by black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains Nations Park (GSMNP), some visitors are pushing their luck given how active the black bear are in this the most active bear season of the year.

The best way to handle yourself when you see a black bear is to stay as far away as possible and never let the bear think that you are a threat to the bear or its cubs which may be close by and out of your sight. You should however act as a threat of you can not get away and are about to be attacked by a bear.

Black bear in a tree

Fall season in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is usually a very active bear season which is a treat to the Millions of visitors who come to visit the park and hopefully get a glimpse or even get to take a picture or shoot video of the symbolic icon animal of the Smoky Mountains.

In the fall, the black bear in the park are in a race against time trying to gather as much food as possible before they slow down and become inactive for the winter. Black bear in the national park don't hibernate in caves during the winter as for all practical purposes there are no caves in the national park other than a sealed off cave in Cades Cove and 2 caves in the White Oak Sinks area of the park between Tremont and Cades Cove.

Black Bear in the GSMNP instead nest in hollows of trees or in a hollow tree. Bears can most often be seen high up in trees rather than on the ground. The tree in the National Park most favored by the black bear are oak trees both for the acorns they provide as food and for the shelter the older large oak trees provide to the bear.

The black bear in the fall typically eat as many nuts, berries, grasses and forbs and insects and other animals including carrion it can in an attempt to fatten up and can put on as much as 4 - 5 pounds of winter weight a day.

black bear warning sign

The female black bears will winter pregnant and the size of a litter is often dependent to the volume and quality of food the black bear acquires during the fall active season. Black bears typically have 2 or 3 cubs in a good year and just 1 or no cubs at all after a year with a limited or harder harvest.

This year's drought which has heavily affected the Smoky Mountains and the natural food stock of the black bear so the resident bears are very active in order to find the food that they need. Just don't get between a hungry bear and its food!

One of the most common questions visitors to the National park ask me is "Where can I find the most black bear in the park?" Traveling extensively through the backcountry and developed areas in both the North Carolina and Tennessee sections of the National Park I have found that the best areas of the national park to find a black bear are: The Roaring Fork section of the park by Gatlinburg Tennessee, Cades Cove typically between Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane in the edge of the woods, backcountry areas between Cosby TN a Big Creek NC, and along the Gatlinburg Bypass on the way to Pigeon Forge. This bypass referred to as the spur will often have bear walking right across the road.

This week I have already counted 22 black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

  • 8 along the road leading into the Roaring Fork Area before the Ogle Cabin
  • 1 on the old Sugarland Trail between Roaring Fork and the Sugarlands
  • 2 in the Greenbrier section on trail along the way to campground 32
  • 2 in Big Cataloochee NC on the Boogerman trail near the stone walls
  • 1 in Big Cataloochee NC in the back field near the old cemetery on the hill.
  • 1 in Deep Creek NC Parking area
  • 3 in Cades Cove area on the Scott Mountain Trail
  • 2 in Cades Cove area on the Gregory Bald longer trail
  • 1 in Cades Cove in woods off Hyatt Lane
  • 1 in Cosby TN on the Hens Wallow Falls trail at the second fork

Although I am only counting 8 bear on Roaring Fork, the same bear I have seen 9 or 10 times I only counted as 1. I can almost guarantee that if you go to Roaring Fork in the next few days early in the morning or before sunset you will see at least 3 or 4 bear.

black bear photographers

Unfortunately many people who are watching or photographing the black bear are not acting wisely chasing the bear up the side of the hill, whistling to get the bears attention or just stopping their car and parking in the middle of the road. All of these are forbidden behavior and illegal and can result in death or serious injury.

ranger for black bears

Bear jams are so common right now in the Roaring Fork area that often there are now up to 2 officers trying to keep park visitors under control so no one gets attacked by a black bear or hit by a driver paying attention to the bear and not the road.

camera phone fool chases black bear

My favorite is the foolish man pictured here who kept climbing the hill chasing a mother bear with her cubs and taking pictures with a camera phone. He lucky left without being attacked by the momma black bear that had her 2 cubs along for the feast of acorns on the ground and before the National Park enforcement officer arrived. Imagine risking death, dismemberment or arrest to take a poor quality picture with his cellphone that he will probably erase or lose within a year or so. Was it worth it?

The bear are fun to watch but please pay attention to the national park black bear regulations and safety rules!

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