Bears without boundaries: Social media complicates living with bears today


By Frances Figart, GUEST COLUMNIST
Printed 4:49 p.m. ET June 4, 2020

In Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park in addition to many communities in its neighborhood, our tourism-based financial system is constructed across the wild nature of our public lands, aptly represented by the long-lasting picture of the black bear.

Bears have glorious long-term reminiscence and a extremely advanced skill to make connections and draw associations. After they lose their concern of individuals and get too shut for consolation, they’re normally searching for meals. However this isn’t their wild nature. It’s a conduct they’ve discovered—from people.

As a ranger within the Smokies throughout the 1960s, when the park had perhaps 350 bears, Bud Cantrell noticed this conduct firsthand.

“It was simply one thing common again then for folks to feed the bears, and also you’d wind up with huge bear (visitors) jams,” he remembers. “We carried an enormous follow us, and the bears have been kind of skilled. For those who hit the pavement with a stick, they’d take off. After we had a foul bear, I’d bait it, get the bear and carry it as much as the pinnacle of Little River and switch him free. Quickly, they normally have been again.”

By the tip of the ’60s, the park had instituted a program that prevented guests from feeding bears. As we speak, the Smokies bear inhabitants has grown to roughly 1,600, a lot of which journey out of the park and into gateway communities to entry human meals. Farther from the park boundary, Asheville’s and Knoxville’s bears are additionally thriving amid growing human populations and growth.

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As we speak’s human–bear battle zone is additional difficult by our skill to immediately share data digitally to large numbers of individuals with the clicking of some buttons on our good telephones or laptop computer keyboards. Some social media customers and websites make it a follow to submit photos and movies of bears entering into bother in neighborhoods—like leaping right into a dumpster, opening a automobile door or entering into somebody’s fridge. These posts are normally framed to elicit laughter and humor.

“Whereas it’s all the time thrilling to see wildlife and might seem comical to see black bears entering into automobiles or trash, we’ve to do not forget that these good and long-lived animals are studying and infrequently instructing their younger habits that may put their lives and other people’s property in danger,” says Jeff Hunter, senior program supervisor with Nationwide Parks Conservation Affiliation.

NPCA is one in every of a number of organizations supporting the Smoky Mountain BearWise Group Taskforce, a gaggle on a mission to encourage optimistic behaviors that may reduce the potential for human–bear conflicts within the Smokies and its gateway communities. One other is Nice Smoky Mountains Affiliation, headed up by CEO Laurel Rematore who traded black bears in Yosemite for these within the Smokies to take her job in 2016.

“Whereas at first blush these social media posts could also be entertaining, the truth that the bear bought entry to human meals is virtually signing a dying sentence for that bear,” she says. “And who can blame them? I do know as soon as I’ve had a style of French fries or potato chips, I need extra too.”

There are many pure meals sources round our area to maintain wholesome black bear populations. However after we tempt bears by making human meals out there, after which submit proof of their dangerous conduct, we glamorize and promote a few of the most undesirable behaviors of black bears.

“These behaviors are irreversible and infrequently proceed to escalate,” says Invoice Stiver, supervisory wildlife biologist with Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park. “Usually, wildlife managers don’t have any selection however to euthanize bears that pose a menace to folks and their property.”

What will be executed? It’s time to get again to those BearWise Fundamentals:

·      By no means feed or strategy bears

·      Safe meals, rubbish and recycling

·      Take away fowl feeders when bears are lively

·      By no means go away pet meals outdoor

·      Clear and retailer grills

·      Alert neighbors to bear exercise

“A wild bear is an impressive sight to see,” says Rematore. “We are able to be sure that the movies folks share are of untamed bears, not these at useless danger, if we people will solely behave responsibly.”

To maintain bears wild, keep 50 yards’ distance and don’t go away your meals accessible to them. When one particular person within the neighborhood feeds bears or permits meals to attract them, that causes points for everybody else within the space—and finally threatens the bears’ very existence.

“These bears are leaving protected lands, stuffed with pure meals sources, to attain simple pickings with unsecured trash,” says Hunter. “Sustainable co-existence with black bears signifies that they’ll’t entry our trash as a meals supply. As soon as we right that challenge, issues get higher quick.”

Assets for studying extra

·      Get all of the BearWise Fundamentals at

·      “Residing with Bears Handbook” (Expanded 2nd version, 2016) by Linda Masterson.

·      Change into a BearWise licensed neighborhood:

Frances Figart is the editor of Smokies Life journal and the Inventive Providers Director for the 34,000-member Nice Smoky Mountains Affiliation, an academic nonprofit accomplice of Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park. Attain her at

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