Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bear warnings/closings on the rise in the Smokies

If you haven’t noticed, the number of bear warnings and campsite closings in the Smoky Mountains continues to increase. Since early spring, a new warning or closing has popped-up almost every week. In fact, two new warnings have been added just this week.

As of right now, backcountry campsites #10 (Russell Field Trail), #15 (Rabbit Creek Trail), #24 (Upper Little River Trail), and #93 (Twentymile Trail) are all closed.

There are also bear warnings posted at the Mt LeConte Shelter, Russell Field Shelter, on the Trillium Gap Trail around Grotto Falls, and at backcountry campsites #13 (near Gregory Bald), #29 (Maddron Bald Trail), and #38 (Baxter Creek Trail near Mt. Sterling).

According to Dr. Frank van Manen, research ecologist at the University of Tennessee, visitors should expect to see more bears than usual this year. The reason for this, he explains, is because last year’s mast (fruit, seed, and nut) crop was especially good. He points out that the amount of hickory nuts and especially wild grapes “was pretty incredible.”

Dr. van Manen has been part of the longest-running black bear research program in North America.

Plentiful bear food means that more cubs are able to survive into adulthood, and more healthy adult bears are able to successfully reproduce. “We had a high [population] level to begin with,” said van Manen. “We’re looking at quite a few yearlings that will be kicked out” by their mothers and have to establish their own home ranges, “which could mean trouble for wildlife managers in coming years.”

Generally speaking, backcountry campsites and shelters are issued warnings after rangers receive a series of consistent reports about potentially problem bears from backcountry users.

If rangers begin to receive reports of bears acting a little more aggressively they may choose to close the site. If a bear steals food, rangers will close the site immediately.

By all means, this article isn't meant to scare anyone into not venturing into the backcountry. Rather, it’s to make you more aware of your surroundings while in the backcountry, and to know how to avoid bears and what to do should you see one in the wild.

A good starting point is to read What Do I Do If I See A Bear? on the GSMNP website, as well as this article.

To put all of this in perspective; according to Appalachian Bear Rescue, over the last 100 years, only 57 people have been killed by black bears in all of North America. That’s the same number of people who die as a result of bee stings in the United States every year.

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Chris said...

Great article. It sounds like the wild life managers are to have there hands full this summer. Next summer should just as bad because this rain should yield a large harvest of food for the bears.

Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Chris, it seems like that would be the case - makes complete logical sense - and I'm not disputing it. However, if you recall, the Smokies was in a pretty good drought for most of last year. So, I don't know what will happen - it's above my pay grade :)

Glad you liked the article though.