GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – At least three bears have been euthanized in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since the start of the year, including the most recent incident over the weekend.
According to Lisa McInnis, head of resource management and science for the GSMNP, one of the bears was very sick and the other was actively aggressive towards humans.
McInnis and other bear advocates have said euthanasia is always the last option for bears. They either try to capture them and release them in the park in hopes of scaring the bear away from encountering humans again, or move them to a forest hours away.
Paulette Cloutier, wildlife photographer and co-founder of Be Bear Aware in the Smokies, said she’s seen too many bears moved or euthanized over the years, and a lot of that is down to human food.
Cloutier said the well-known phrase “a fed bear is a dead bear” is confusing to people who aren’t educated about bear safety.
“People tell me all the time ‘but I don’t really know what that means.’ Unless you explain it to them. They’re like ‘oh okay, I get it. So if I feed the bear, it’s gonna get shot or moved. You know, they finally see there are consequences to what they think is cute in the moment,” Cloutier said.
She said there was a lack of bear safety education, which is why she helped start Be Bear Aware in the Smokies.
“They really need to know the consequences of what is happening. They need to see, A) I feed the bear, B) it happens, then C and D happen and finally it gets euthanized,” Cloutier said.
Cloutier said people need to learn how to properly dispose of their trash, lock their outdoor trash cans, and remind people not to leave food in their car or leave their car unlocked.
She said she also teaches people how to stay away from bears and what to do if a bear crosses your path.
Cloutier said it’s very important to be aware when hiking in the mountains and never hike alone.
She said no one should have their headphones on and stay away from thick bushes.
Cloutier said if you smell something foul and musky, like rotting garbage, don’t go near it because a bear probably smelled it too.
She also said that if a random swarm of midges is flying around you while hiking, a bear is likely nearby.
If a group of hikers encounter a bear, Cloutier said they shouldn’t run away and make very loud noises to scare the bear away.
She said people should never come within 50 feet of a bear.
McInnis said bears rarely attack humans. This is not why bears are usually moved or euthanized.
So far this year, McInnis said GSMNP has responded to at least 40 human bear incidents in which a bear needed to be trapped or relocated.
It all comes down to food, which is why it’s important to protect everything from bears in bear country.
Cloutier said once bears get used to being fed either through garbage cans, dumpsters, trash or unlocked vehicles or cabins, they get used to getting good food easily and keep going. to come back for more.
“If the people at the cabin were there for a week and they come home after feeding the bear for the week. Now the next people come and they have their little kids and their dog and they don’t go realize that there’s a bear that senses food. And especially at this time of year when they’re really hungry, they’ll become aggressive for food,” Cloutier said.
She said local areas need to better enforce bear-proof dumpsters and thinks a bear-proof dumpster ordinance should be in place for all of Sevier County.
Cloutier said Be Bear Aware in the Smokies is trying to raise money for a black bear museum. She said it would be located near tourist areas so visitors can learn about black bears and what not to do around them.
McInnis said the park works with some local bear advocacy organizations such as Bear Wise.
Bear Wise members said they also try to educate people about bear safety.
If you follow the basics of Bear Wise, you’ll help bears and humans stay unharmed.
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