Little River Canyon National Preserve

The Return of Black Bears


Editor’s Note: Visitation to the Jacksonville State University Little River Canyon Center has been on the rise ever since it was opened to the public in 2009 but our newest visitors have created a little bit of a stir. Black Bear sightings are slowly on the rise and this press release from our National Park Service partners describes the welcomed phenomenon.

Black Bears are returning to the Lookout Mountain area.  Many people are asking the staff at Little River Canyon National Preserve about black bears due to the high number of sightings, signs and footprints.  The park has not had any problems with bear encounters.  Bears in the park are quite reclusive and not used to human food or contact.  All park sightings have ended with the bear leaving when it realizes a person is near.

A black bear is the only bear found east of the Mississippi River and it is normally not a threat to humans.  Bears can become habituated to human food and human contact, increasing the likelihood of bear–human interactions that end badly, usually for the bear.  To prevent this, the National Park Service is using animal resistant garbage cans at all picnic areas.  Park Ranger Larry Beane said, “This has not only prevented bears from becoming attracted to people’s food in the park, it has prevented other animals from scattering garbage and becoming a nuisance.  The cans have saved thousands of hours of work cleaning up after raccoons and opossums.” Keeping bears away from human food is one of the best ways to keep both the bears and our visitors safe.

As black bears become more common here it is very important that we keep them wild.  Confrontations with black bears are very rare.  Most incidents are the direct result of people approaching the bear for photographs, surprising the bear, or feeding the bear. You can minimize the possibility of a confrontation by following these basic rules: Never approach, feed or follow wild animals, especially bears. Black bears are scavengers looking for an easy meal like human food, pet food, and even bird seed.    If they are attracted to your yard or garden more than a few times, find out what is attracting them and remove it. 

The bear that was hit by a car on 19 December was a healthy male.  Tracy Nelson with Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said it was a nice size bear for the south.  Mr. Nelson said “This bear was probably in its home range and may have been raised as a cub in its home territory.”  Bear sightings have increased in both number and range leading officials to suspect several bears may be using the park and surrounding area as their home territory.  A male’s range may be as large as eight miles across overlapping several female ranges.  A female’s range is five to six miles across.  In years when food is hard to find black bears travel farther looking for food.

Bears were once common here.  From the early 1900s to 1980s, generations of people lived here with very limited bear interaction.  A bear moved through in the late 1970s but was killed in Jackson County.  A few bear sightings were reported in the 1980s.   Some of the recent bears moved into the area with ear tags from Georgia.  At least two with Georgia tags have been recorded.  As these bears find good habitat and breed, their numbers will likely grow to what the habitat can support.

Black bears attract large numbers of tourists to the Great Smokey Mountains, increasing the tourism of the area.  Tourism is one of the main industries providing incomes in both Cherokee and DeKalb County.  The bears have returned and though not numerous, the park protects them and their habitat.

For more information, call the park office at (256) 845-9605.