Great Smoky Mountains National Park wildlife biologists remind the public to allow bears to forage undisturbed on natural foods during this critical feeding period before winter hibernation. Bears depend on fall foods such as acorns and grapes to store fat reserves that enable them to survive winter. This year, these foods in the park are extremely rare leading bears to move long distances in search of food.
In addition to greater movement in search of food, bears are also foraging on less-desirable mast such as hickories and walnuts. Park staff have reported as many as eight different bears visiting a single hickory tree to feed on nuts. Park officials are temporarily closing areas around these scarce food sources to allow bears access to forage. Visitors are reminded to respect these closed areas to give bears an opportunity to eat undisturbed and build up fat reserves for the winter. Photographers are reminded to use telephoto lenses to capture photographs and to remain at least 50 yards from bears at all times.
“There were no cherries this year and the hard mast is marginal at best,” said Smokies Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver. “Because food is scare, bears are trying to access individual trees in areas they normally would not during good food years.”
Feeding bears is illegal and all food waste should be properly disposed of to discourage bears from approaching people. Feeding, touching, disturbing, and willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, is illegal in the park. If approached by a bear, visitors should slowly back away to put distance between the animal and themselves creating space for the animal to pass.
For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, please visit the park website. To report a bear incident, please call 865-436-1230.