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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Black bears will become more aggressive in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park because their population has increased and more people are feeding them, a University of Tennessee wildlife specialist said Monday.

Three bears have been killed recently after threatening humans, park officials said.

UT-Knoxville’s Mike Pelton said the bear population in the Smokies has increased sharply the last two years.

“In our backcountry work this year, we’ve caught more bears than we’ve ever caught,” Pelton said. “There are a lot of them moving around to get in trouble.”

Pelton said some problem bears can be relocated, but many continue to cause problems or die in an attempt to return to their habitats.

“They become habituated to easy food very quickly. Once they do, they don’t go back (to only wild food sources),” Pelton said. “The relocated ones have a very short life span. They usually die within a few months.”

Pelton attributed the rise in black bear population to plentiful food supplies over the past few years. But the dry summer could produce fewer acorns and reduce future bear populations, he said.

“Just be thankful that we don’t have grizzlies in the park,” Pelton said.


Contact: Dr. Mike Pelton (615-974-7126)