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Black bear sighted in middle Tennessee since the late 1800s

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Black bear sighted in middle Tennessee since the late 1800s

MONTGOMERY/DAVIDSON COUNTIES: Bears. Yes, there is a bear — stress bear, singular — strolling through Middle Tennessee. It’s not your everyday occurrence.

I come from New England, where black bears are pretty commonplace. In fact, they are almost urban dwellers, coming out of the Green Mountain, the White Mountains, The Berkshires, Mt. Katahdin and the Saddleback Mountains of Maine. Every so often you’d find a bear and her cubs trotting through a schoolyard and on occasion, down Main Street in some communities. As I said, commonplace. I’ve seen many a bear in my everyday life in Vermont and Western Massachusetts, and I seen a 500 pounder in Northern Vermont. THAT was bear!

An Eastern Tennessee black bear…

I would expect to see black bears in Eastern Tennessee and its’ Carolina borders where the Appalachian Trail runs through. That’s a great habitat for bears. Middle Tennessee, not so much.

So it was with more than a little enthusiasm and a great big smile that I greet the thought of a bear actually finding it’s way to the Middle of the State. My only disappointment was that it did not stroll through my yard.

I did some digging and found that may have been more than 100 years since a bear trekked through Davidson County.  It was sighted in Joelton near Whites Creek Pike (August 15).  It was also sighted meandering around Clarksville (August 25) and in Logan County, Kentucky.

Middle Tennessee’s TWRA wildlife information specialist Barry Crosssaid there hasn’t been a population of black bears in the county since “sometime in the late 1800s, when they were mostly killed off through the region.”


The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), which monitors generally more ordinary or family sightings,  was taken aback with the images of this young bear and believes all three sightings were of the same bear. Not very big by bear standards, because it is young,  probably fresh from the protection of its mother and seeking a territory of its own to call home. That probably won’t be around here, since that urge for territory also requires something else: a female. So he’ll likely just keep on looking for the right place to settle down.

Meanwhile, if you happen to spot this magnificent young creature, don’t try and take a selfie with him. Don’t go running after him. Stand still, stay silent, back away, and leave him alone. However novel it is to have a bear running around Middle Tennessee in 2018, it is still a very wild animal running around Middle Tennessee. Generally a bear will hear you long before you know he’s about. He isn’t going to hang around but you may hear him running away.

If he’s sighted in your county, or near particular homes, take your bird feeders down and keep your garbage cans in a closed garage. Bears can smell food from a ways off, and they love a free meal. They can open a car door to find that leftover McDonald’s wrapper in the back seat. The will eat that and tear up your car looking for more.

If you encounter a bear:

  • Never feed or approach bears.
  • Keep your distance, alter your route of travel or wait until it leaves.
  • Bears will almost always find an escape route if left alone.
  • Shouting or throwing sticks in the bear vicinity may encourage the animal to flee once it finds an escape route.
  • Don’t run from a bear, it may trigger its instinct to chase.
  • If approached by a bear, stand your ground, raise your arms to appear larger, yell and throw rocks or sticks until it leaves the area.
  • If a black bear attacks, fight back aggressively. Do not play dead. Use pepper spray, sticks, rocks, or anything you can find to defend yourself.
  • If cornered or threatened, bears may slap the ground, “pop” their jaws, or “huff” as a warning. If you see this, you are too close. Back away slowly while facing the bear at all times.
  • Report the sighting, call 911 or notify TWRA. You can also use the online I Saw A Bear reporting tool.
  • Locate and remove the lure that caused the bear to come into your area.

If a bear seems unable to eat or move normally or is exhibiting injuries and behaviors that would limit its ability to forage, climb, or escape. Call TWRA. For the Middle Tennessee, you can call toll free at 1-800-624-7406.

— Christine Anne Piesyk

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