Year round sightings of bears not uncommon

Matthew Lane • Jun 28, 2016 at 11:02 AM

KINGSPORT – In our area, it's not uncommon to see a black bear walking through the neighborhood.

Black bear are indigenous to our region and can be seen any time of the year. Since our region does not get as cold as other parts of the country, Bob Culler, park ranger at Bays Mountain Park, said black bears in our area don’t typically hibernate during the winter.

“They can be seen any time of the year and seem to spread out mostly in the spring, moving into new areas,” Culler said. “Young male bears are looking for food and mates, more likely food this time of year; mates in the fall.”

A Wadlow Gap resident recently saw a black bear walking through his back yard and snapped a photo of the animal for the Times-News. Culler said the park occasionally gets calls from the public about bears, usually asking for advice on how to deal with the animal.

Every once in a while, the caller will ask Bays Mountain to come get the bear.

Culler said the most important thing for people to remember about dealing with black bears is not to feed them.

Any odorous substance is going to attract bears, and the best way to avoid bears from coming around your property is to properly manage food items, garbage and odorous substances.

Park officials recommend storing garbage in secure cans inside a garage or outbuilding rather than outside, avoid putting odorous items in the garbage until the day of collection, and if you do have to put odorous items in the garbage, first put them in a small plastic bag to cut down on the stench.

Bird feeders and pet food should be brought inside at night, outdoor grills should be stored inside a garage and if you maintain a compost pile, try and only put non-food items in it or sprinkle some lye on the pile to keep down the smells.

Try and locate gardens, orchards, pet kennels and bee hives a safe distance from your house. If you can't do that, then an electric fence is a good deterrent against bears.

“A couple of years ago, (the park) had a chest freezer that wasn't working, and we were restoring the core in it. And we had a padlock on it,” Culler explained. “A bear came into the park, knocked over the freezer and ripped the lid open enough to get to the feed. Bears are pretty strong and smart about getting into things.”

The size of a bear’s territory is a function of the availability of food. If the land has adequate or excessive food, then the bear’s territory could be small. If there is little to no food around, then the territory could extend for several miles.

Your typical female black bear can weigh between 100-150 pounds; males range from 175-200 pounds. Not much bigger than a big black Labrador retriever, something people have been known to mistake them for.

The population of black bears in our region seems to be thriving, park officials say. Though a formal study has not been conducted, at any given time 10 to 15 bears could be living within the 3,500 acres of Bays Mountain Park.

Black bears are very adaptable animals and learn quickly. They normally do not pose a threat to humans. If you leave them alone, they’ll probably leave you alone. Attacks with serious injuries are pretty rare with black bears, though they do happen from time to time.

And the best way to scare off a bear is to make noise, yell or bang on something or throw a rock or stick at the animal. Do not throw food at the bear, and whatever you do, don't play dead. That works with grizzly bears, but not so much with black bears.

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