Growing bear population upsets Big South Fork neighbors

8:00 PM, Feb 14, 2012   |    comments
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The National Park Service reintroduced black bears to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area more than a decade ago.  14 bears were released into the wild in the late-1990's.  Wildlife officers said the black bear is native to the plateau.

Currently, the NPS tells 10News it has no idea how many bears now live in Big South Fork.

Some people who live near the national park are pushing for a no-limit bear season at the park.  The homeowners believe the black bear population has grown too large.

The issue came to light after Big South Fork officials announced a $500 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever poached a black bear in the park last Fall.

"They're in parking lots.  There is one in a tree by the church on Sunday.  They're creating problems.  They're going out of Big South Fork.  They don't know the boundaries.  That has now resulted in the park service telling us we are the problem," said Fentress County resident Sue Neff.

"I'm hearing more and more women saying they're going to get a hidden gun license, meaning a concealed weapon permit, and carry it in their saddle bags when they ride because they're afraid of bears," said horse enthusiast and Fentress County resident Leslie Helm.

Tom Blount is the Chief Resource Manager at the park.  He said a full-scale reintroduction was canceled in the past.  No new black bears have been brought to the fork due to visitor safety and other reasons.

"Because the bear population is growing in Kentucky and there are some other issues regarding bear management, regarding the states having to support problem bears," Blount said.

Workers at Big South Fork are focused on sustaining the population so visitors can view native wildlife.  If the black bear population grows even larger, Neff may get what she wants--sort of.  The national park would work with the state gaming agency to create a hunting season.

"What I want to happen is for them to hunt them out," said Neff.

Neff plans to attend a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency meeting in Nashville next month.  She will ask TWRA commissioners to approve a bear season "without limits" for Big South Fork.

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