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Wildlife experts say keep trash locked up to avoid attracting bears

Becky Campbell • Updated Aug 31, 2018 at 8:05 PM

If you live in Johnson City, or anywhere in the Tri-Cities for that matter, there’s something you might want to know about wildlife — this is black bear country, and they were here long before we came along.

“What we are seeing are black bears restoring much of their historic home range,” said Matthew Cameron, a public information officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

“Historically, black bears covered the entire North American continent except the extreme West Coast, but because of persecution, unregulated hunting, land use changes and the chestnut blight, the population declined drastically in the early 20th century and they were reduced to protected lands. Now, because of sound conservation practices, protected lands and regulated hunting, the population is rebounding and bears are leaving the national forests and park lands to establish new territories,” he said.

That, of course, concerns Johnson City residents like Amy Campbell, who went out of her house Friday morning to find her trash can pulled out into the driveway with scratches and a large crack running down the side. The one bag of trash that was in the can was strewn about nearby.

“It’s been about right at a month it’s been going on,” Campbell said. “It’s fall, these bears are wanting to fatten up and hibernate.”

Cameron said lone bears are often yearling males who have been kicked out of their former territory by their mothers or the older male bears.

"He is wandering about trying to establish his own territory and is easily lured by the smell of human foods in garbage as well as pet foods, bird seed and so on,” Cameron said. “Because big cities and urban areas like the Tri-Cities are located very near the Cherokee National Forest, bears cannot resist the smell of food in the air particularly when they’re in between food sources such as in late summer.”

Late summer is when food sources such as summer berries are gone and acorns and hickory nuts haven’t began to drop in abundance yet, he said.

“It is during this time when people should be vigilant in keeping their garbage properly contained, avoid leaving pet foods unattended outside, keeping bird feeders empty, and not leaving scraps of food or compost piles available. Bears are strong and persistent animals so bungee cords or weak latches aren’t going to keep them out of trash cans.”

Campbell said her concern is for the dozen or more children who live on her street, which is near Woodland Elementary School, as well as for the bear.

“The bears have been out here before,” she said. “Typically they get identified, they get (caught) and get hauled off. I don’t want anybody to kill this bear for just being a bear, but I don’t want any kids hurt. I just want this bear gone.”

Cameron said the TWRA recommends residents use a commercial bear-resistant container or a solid structure with a proper locking mechanism to deter them.

“Storing garbage inside a garage or disposing of it in a landfill or properly constructed community garbage dump daily is another option,” he said. “These certainly seem like inconveniences but it is our garbage and our responsibility to keep bears wild and on a natural diet as opposed to allowing them to be habituated to human foods. Also, tell your neighbors when there is bear activity in your area and remind everyone of the several sources of attractants for bears. If everyone will be responsible, bears will move on because they will not hang around unless there is a food source.”

Bear-wise Basics

  • Never feed or approach bears.  Feeding bears (intentionally or unintentionally) trains them to approach homes and people for more food. Bears will defend themselves if a person gets too close, so don’t risk  your safety and theirs.
  • Secure food, garbage and recycling. Food and food odors attract bears so don’t reward them with easily available food or garbage.
  • Remove bird feeders when bears are active. Bird seed and other grains have a high calorie content making them very attractive to bears. The best way to avoid conflicts with bears is to remove feeders.
  • Never leave food out.  Feed outdoor pets portion sizes that will be completely eaten during each meal and then remove leftover food and food bowl. Securely store these foods so nothing is available to bears.
  • Clean and store grills.  After you use an outdoor grill, clean it thoroughly and make sure that all grease and fat is removed. Store cleaned grills and smokers in a secure area that keeps bears out.
  • Let your neighbors know.  Share news with your friends and neighbors about recent bear activity and how to avoid bear conflicts. Bears have adapted to living near people; are you willing to adapt to living near bears?

For more information on how to deal with a bear in your area go to www.bearwise.org and to report a bear sighting, visit www.tnwildlife.org and go to the “Report a Bear Sighting” link.

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