Are Black Bears Taking Over The Smoky Mountains?

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It may seem that black bears are taking over the Smoky Mountains. The evidence is clear: garbage cans overturned, food wrappers and bags strewn about, bears caught on camera, and paw prints everywhere. They are invading campgrounds and picnic areas, raiding trash cans, and stealing food. Some people are even calling them "garbage bears."  One woman even reported seeing a black bear swimming in her hot tub!

While it is true that the population of black bears is growing, they are not taking over the park. There are still plenty of areas where you are unlikely to see a bear. And, if you do see one, it is likely to be running away from you, rather than coming after you!


The National Park Service is urging visitors to be Bear Wise and take precautions while in the Park or surrounding areas. That means keeping a clean campsite and never feeding the bears (or other wildlife), storing food properly in hard-sided locked vehicles or bear-proof containers. They are also asking people to avoid leaving food or garbage out overnight and to dispose of trash properly.


Black Bears in the Smoky Mountains


Bears are attracted to human food because it's easy to get and it's not what they normally eat. In their natural habitat, black bears eat berries, nuts, and insects. Human food, and especially garbage, may harm and even kill a bear. Bears that are used to eating food scraps and garbage become unable to find the food in the wild, and often create a nuisance and can be even dangerous. 



It's not just careless visitors who are to blame for the influx of bears into the areas surrounding the National Park. Bears are also searching for food in natural habitats that have been encroached upon by humans. In some cases, bears have even entered cars in search of food. A bear trapped inside may "total" a vehicle as it tries to get out and destroys the interior. In a recent case, a bear got trapped inside a vehicle and died due to high temperatures during summer. 



If you're lucky enough to see a black bear in the Smoky Mountains, don't panic. Stay calm and give the bear plenty of space. If you're in your car, stay in the car. And whatever you do, don't run!