The Knoxville News Sentinel reported last week that black bears are thriving in and around the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The bears were reintroduced to the area two decades ago after their numbers were decimated by unregulated hunting and adverse habitat changes.
The report is not surprising. The black bear population here in Northeast Tennessee has reached a 100-year high, which means more bears are showing up on backyard patios and even in busy commercial districts.
The number of bear sightings is likely to increase. That’s why the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency encourages homeowners to know the “bear facts” when it comes to discouraging these and other wild critters from paying them a visit this spring.
The first thing to remember is never to feed bears, or any other wild animal. Doing so causes them to lose their instinctive fear of humans, turning them into nuisance animals that are unpredictable and dangerous when they encounter people.
Bears, as well as raccoons, have been known to damage bird feeders and garbage cans in pursuit of a meal. Residents should make sure they dispose of their garbage in containers that are sealed tightly. Garbage left outdoors in plastic bags only serves as a dinner invitation to hungry critters.
Never leave pet food in a place where roaming wildlife can get at it. Keep dog and cat food in sealed containers and don’t leave pet food unattended outdoors.
This is also a good time to remind pet owners to have their animals vaccinated for rabies. Rabies is most commonly found in raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. The raccoon strain is generally considered to be the most dangerous because raccoons are more likely than other rabies carriers to come into contact with people and their pets.
For more information on dealing with bears, visit the TWRA Region IV website at www.twraregion4.org or call the TWRA Region IV office at 587-7037.