Black bears have been very active during this time of year here in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. With Summer coming to a close and Fall setting in, they are preparing for the upcoming Winter season. Some campsites and hiking trails are on High Alert for Bear sightings in the area. A few of these include Backcountry Campsites #10, #21, #60, #63, and #92, Mt. LeConte shelter, Laurel Falls Trail, Abrams Falls, Ramsey Cascades Trail, Grotto Falls Trail, Forney Creek Trail, and Grapeyard Ridge Trail.
What do I do if I see a bear?
The National Park Service recommends that if you spot a bear to remain watchful and don’t approach the bear. Watch for changes in its behavior to ensure that you have not gotten too close. In this event you would walk backwards slowly, to let the bear know you are giving it space. Once far enough you can resume your hiking – away from the bear. Black bear attacks come few and far between. Preventative measures are often the best way to avoid any sort of bear sighting or attack. This can be done by practice Leave No Trace principles, such as packing out trash or using proper trash bins, disposing of food and waste properly, minimizing your impact on the environment, and hanging your food away from your campsite.
If you would like the chance to ‘safely’ view a bear, try heading up to Cades Cove to drive through the Park and view some of the wildlife. Early morning sightings are more frequent, although we have found critters at all times of the day! The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is also frequented with wildlife and you may be able to catch a glance of one through the trees!
Of course you may even spot one in Downtown Gatlinburg! Garbage has been a big issue in the area. Black bear diets consist of nuts, berries, and insects. Being that Gatlinburg city borders the National Park, bears can get confused to the smells that
waft in from town. They will follow those smells to campsites, picnic areas, and sometimes even businesses and houses! That is why it is so important to follow the guidelines set in place to control garbage problems. Just a reminder to never feed or leave food out for a bear or any other animals as it can cause that animal to be less fearful of humans and they will likely seek out more food. In fact, citations can be issued by park rangers trying to reinforce these guidelines, with fines up to $5,000 or even jail time.
But it’s almost Winter..don’t Black Bears hibernate?
Towards late Summer and early Fall black bears start storing food and can eat up to 30 pounds of it a week. Smoky Mountain black bears do hibernate, but not like many of other bears in different areas. They can go long periods of time without food, water, exercise, and using bodily functions. Bears will usually find a hollowed out tree or some other form of burrow to take refuge from the cold. They usually slumber through the Winter, but on warmer days some will wake and wander around. Their bodies release a chemical called leptin, which is used to curb their appetite and their metabolism rate drops to about 50% of the normal rate. Body temperature only drops by a few degrees, unlike black bears in the northern regions. Their hibernation period in the Smokies may not be as lengthy as black bears in Northern regions such as Alaska due to our short winters.
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