In the Smoky Mountains, spring is in the air. That means new life is all around – the bird, the bees and in Townsend – the bears.

“This is usually the time of year where we start seeing them, the first week or two of April,” said Coy Blair, with Appalachian Bear Rescue.

Coy Blair helps care for bears at ABR.

After several months with no residents, ABR has brought in its first two cubs of the season.

One-year-old Summitt bear showed up in late March, and this week, the group brought in two-and-a-half month old Otto. It’s the start of their fostering season, after several banner years for the group. Over a 19-month period ending in November 2016, they cared for 56 bears.

Summitt bear recently moved to the wild enclosure.

“Last year was a good year to be a bear as far as food availability in the wild,” said Blair. “There were a ton of acorns produced, it was pretty consistent all over.”

In previous years, a ruined acorn crop forced the group to take in dozens of starving yearlings. Blair said it’s tough to predict what this year will look like.

“So it depends on what happens in nature as far as being able to provide food for all the bears,” said Blair. “So you know, you see a hiccup this year, we could see more or less depending on what [the weather] does.”

But as always, they’re hoping to keep their numbers as low as necessary. This week, Blair partnered with the National Park Service in an attempt to foster Otto out to another mother with cubs. The idea is to creep up to an existing den and smear Vick’s VapoRub on the cubs and the mother’s nose.

“So when she comes too, she’ll associate that common scent with all cubs, and it’s pretty successful,” said Blair.

Unfortunately, their target mother was not in her den, so Otto will stay with ABR for the foreseeable future. Already, the cub is learning to climb the walls of the nursery, and developing a love for applesauce.

But even just the attempt to foster a cub out into the wild is a landmark: ABR hasn’t had the resources to try it since 2001. They say this is a sign of growing support and partnerships.

But they still hope to reduce the need to foster animals – and Blair says as the weather warms up, the general public can help by keeping bird and pet food inside, and securing garbage.

“Because there will be bear families moving around, hopefully away from your home, but if there’s any temptation they may wind up nearby and could possibly end up in an orphaning situation,” said Blair.