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10Listens: Killing of mama bear in Blount County raises questions about state laws over bear defense

ABR said some cubs were orphaned after a property owner shot and killed a bear that they said was threatening their chickens.

BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — The killing of a bear on private property in Blount County has raised a series of questions over what is and isn't allowed per Tennessee law.

In this case, the bear was a mother of two cubs. Right now the cubs are under the care of Appalachian Bear Rescue, where they named the pair Betsy Ross and Martha Washington. ABR said it rescued the cub sisters after their mother was shot and killed by a property owner.

"Betsy Ross is a little feistier, she's pretty vocal, she loves to play and run around," said Reagan Munday, a Curator with the Appalachian Bear Rescue. "And then Martha's more calm, and just kind of like follows her sister around."

Munday is one of the Curators who helped search for the cubs and reported to the scene. 

"We are able to raise them and get them the nutrition they need," Munday said. 

Officers with TWRA say a depredation report was filed by the homeowner. The homeowner said he was having problems with a bear killing his chickens.

After ABR posted about the bear, people had questions if this kind of defense was allowable under a new state law passed this year, which legally protects a person who kills a bear that is threatening them on their property in certain circumstances.

State Representative Jeremy Faison said this owner is covered and will not face penalties. He said that's because the owner meets the criteria of the law: they live near the Smokies, they filed a depredation report and the bear was harming his property.

It wasn't until after the bear was shot that the homeowner realized it had cubs.

"If the bear is destroying somebody's property, their livestock, we're not going to do anything about them. We're not going to give somebody a ticket," Faison said. 

Faison said he sponsored the bill, which an amended version was passed during the previous session. 

The law allows a person who lives close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to use deadly force against a bear in certain circumstances if it enters their property and they have a reasonable belief it could kill or harm them, or if the "belief of danger" is reasonable. The law does not specifically define what constitutes a "belief of danger." It comes with a few caveats, such as requiring the person to notify the TWRA within 24 hours of killing or injuring a bear. 

Faison said the law does not give people a license to kill wandering bears.

"If the bear is just walking around, let's leave it alone. We love our wildlife," Faison said.

Faison said the original law still allows people anywhere in Tennessee to use self-defense if a bear is ever trying to harm them directly. The law does not apply if the person provokes the animal or if they are able to easily run away to safety.

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