KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — People who live near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park repeatedly hear the messages to make their community "BearWise." Remove bird feeders, secure trash, don't leave pet food outside, and a host of other recommendations aim to prevent attracting hungry bears.
Now the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) suggests people in neighborhoods in North Knoxville take the same steps for at least a couple of weeks to ensure a bear does not attempt to make the area its home.
Knoxville police spotted the bear in Fountain City after 2:00 a.m. Thursday and posted a message on Facebook to warn people to "steer clear" of the animal.
A doorbell camera in the North Hills neighborhood recorded a bear dashing through a yard at around 5:30 a.m. It's unclear if it is the same bear KPD spotted near Broadway.
TWRA bear expert Dan Gibbs said Knoxville does not require the kind of year-round measures recommended for communities closer to the Great Smoky Mountains. But he said neighborhoods should act when the occasional bear shows up.
"The people who live in the area where this bear has been sighted, if they have bird feeders, they need to take them down. If they feed their pets outdoors, they need to take that pet food and bring it in. They need to secure their household trash. The key here is we're trying to keep the bear moving. If it doesn't find anything to eat on your property, the odds of you seeing it tomorrow are very unlikely," said Gibbs.
Gibbs recommends visiting the BearWise.org website to educate yourself on how to avoid attracting bears as well as other safety tips for bear encounters.
This is the time of year when young male bears roam in search of new territory.
"Nothing about bears surprises me. They move around a lot, particularly this time year when females are kicking cubs out so they can breed again. Particularly, young males are out moving around looking for a home," said Joe Clark, a longtime bear expert and research scientist with the USGS.
Even if Clark is not surprised, he admits spotting a bear on Broadway in North Knoxville is not an everyday event.
"Well, you don't think of that as a bear area. It's a pretty rare event," said Clark. "The bear population is very healthy. So, we're seeing bears show up in places they've never been before and I expect that trend to continue. Our studies with GPS collars show just how far bears can travel."
Knoxville has had its share of bear sightings through the years. In 2007, a bear climbed the fences and walls of buildings downtown before it was tranquilized and relocated. In December 2019, a bear was trapped after it was seen at the baseball stadium at the University of Tennessee.
Gibbs said TWRA has received more calls than usual this spring regarding bear encounters. He said some of the increase could be due to people spending more time at home.
"You have people who are at home to see a bear during a time when they would normally be away. But you also have people creating more household trash and garbage," said Gibbs.
TWRA offers these tips for people living or vacationing in bear country:
- Never feed or approach bears.
- Do not store food, garbage or recyclables in areas accessible to bears.
- Remove bird feeders where bears are active.
- Feed outdoor pets a portion size that will be completely consumed during each meal and securely store pet foods.
- Keep grills and smokers clean and stored in a secure area when not in use.
- Talk to family and neighbors when bear activity is occurring in your area.