The highest black bear population in about 150 years, combined with a lack of food and increasing human encroachment into their habitat, makes more
encounters likely this year, according to wildlife biologist with the state and
David Brandenburg of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said most of Tennessee's bear habitat is on public lands in the southern Appalachian Mountains, but increasing numbers of people are moving into the areas adjacent to those public lands.
"Every year TWRA receives hundreds of calls and complaints concerning black bears," said Brandenburg. "Most of the complaints are of bears raiding garbage containers, bird feeders, and pet food left outdoors. Additionally, some irresponsible people even intentionally feed bears."
Direct or indirect feeding causes bears to become nuisance animals that are a threat to human safety, he said. According to Brandenburg, in 2006 TWRA officers spent hundreds of hours dealing with human/bear conflicts, and destroyed seven nuisance bears.
Kim Delozier, biologist for the Park, said the Easter weekend freeze that killed the flowers and buds on several varieties of trees may drive more bears into populated areas looking for food.
"Hard masts, or acorns, are a primary food source for wildlife in mountainous areas. Animals depend on them for reproduction and survival. In past years when there was a mast failure, we had an increase in bear problems inside and outside the Park-in 1997 they traveled as far as Knoxville and Maryville. It was pretty much a mass exit of bears from the mountains to low-lying areas looking for food,"said Delozier.
"We expect that hungry bears will be more bold in trying to get people's food."