Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials work to keep the bears in their natural habitat, but they do wander into residential areas at times.
“Bradley County is no stranger to black bears. Normally we get reported sightings in late summer, early fall when bears are foraging for food to fatten up for the winter. This year, the calls started coming in earlier and have already bypassed last year’s reports,” said TWRA officer Brandon Lee.
During the past years, a number of bear sightings have been reported in the Highway 64 area. Recently, a sighting was reported to TWRA officials in Bradley County and in just the past week, Amy Freeman of Turtletown reported a bear had wandered into her yard.
In August 2012, a small female bear was captured by TWRA officials after it had roaming neighborhoods in the Benwood and the Benton Pike areas, as well as the southern side of Highway 64.
A black bear was struck by a driver on South Lee Highway, inside the city limits of Cleveland, in 2008. Another small bear was seen roaming the Blue Springs Road area and was captured alive inside the city limits in 2008.
In 2006, a Polk County resident reported he had killed a bear at his residence in 2006. The bear was just a few miles from the Cherokee National Forest.
These large wild animals can roam virtually anywhere, and travel a long distance, according to Lee.
“We receive calls of bear sightings all over the county. The calls used to originate toward Highway 64 near Polk County. These bears were mostly out of the Cherokee National Forest. We would also get a few calls in South Bradley County. Blue Springs, Ladd Springs, and Leadmine Valley are common roaming grounds for black bears,” explained Lee.
“We also get a few out of Georgia that cross state lines. The thing to realize is they could show up anywhere. As the population of black bears increases, we will continue to see them. Bears have large home ranges and do not know county or state lines. They don’t know where the Cherokee National Forest ends and our backyard begins. They are simply searching for food or have been kicked out on their own from their mother. Typically black bears will roam around an area and once it realizes there isn’t a suitable habitat, it moves on. That is the characteristic of a normal wild animal,” he said.
During last year’s bear incident in the area of Benwood and Highway 64, officials found the bear had been foraging for food from garbage cans, pet feeders and bird feeders.
Lee said bears can become “habitual” to the human element regarding food scraps and household trash.
“Education is the biggest asset to living with black bears. Folks in Northeast Tennessee live with black bears every day. There are also more in Bradley County than most people are aware of,” Lee said.
“If you have a bear passing through or hear of your neighbors having one close by, take in your pets food at night; don’t throw out scraps; clean out your bird feeders and remove excess seed. This can all be temporary,” Lee explained.
“Once you take away the temptation from your black bear visitor, it’s just a matter of time before it will move on.
It isn’t required to report a sighting, but anyone wanting to report a sighting can do so by contacting the Region 3, District 32 TWRA office at 931-484-9571.