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Black Bears on the Move: Are They Making Their Way Across Tennessee?

Once upon a time, black bears roamed across the state of Tennessee. Once settlers arrived in North America, bear populations declined. Humans took over the land, and they saw bears as a threat to livestock and survival. 

Bear numbers are thought to be increasing again, and it may become more common to see bears in the Nashville area and across Middle Tennessee.  

Black bears thrive in the The Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Cherokee National Forest areas. Almost 2,000 live in the Smoky Mountains, one of the largest protected areas of black bears. 

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) estimates that there are approximately 5,000-6,000 black bears in Tennessee. The TWRA thinks the bears will gradually move towards the middle part of the state, and people should be prepared for that eventuality. 

How to Avoid a Black Bear Visit

Image by Alexandre Bury

Bears prefer to live in places like the Smokies, but the search for food can attract them into towns and residential areas. A black bear is comparable to a “300-pound racoon,” TWRA spokesperson Barry Cross told The Tennessean

Bears, like racoons, are attracted to human food sources, so it is essential to keep all food and garbage stored in places that bears cannot reach. 

Tips From the National Park Service

The National Park Service offers advice to visitors in the case of a black bear encounter while out in nature. 

If you are being approached by a bear, make a noise, talk loudly and shout at the bear. If you are being physically attacked by a bear, do not play dead and fight back with any available object. Do not run from a bear as it could trigger a chase response. 

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