A second bear incident in the Ski Mountain area of Gatlinburg has again demonstrated the dangers of careless garbage handling in bear country.
On October 28, 2006, a 72-year-old woman was returning home from walking her dog when she came around the corner of her house and encountered a female black bear with three cubs. The mother bear attacked the woman, inflicting minor scratches and bites to the woman’s leg, hand, and arm. The Mountain Press newspaper reported that the bears may have been rummaging through garbage on the deck of the home just prior to the attack.
The incident occurred at 9:45 in the morning, a time of day when wild bears would avoid places with humans present, but when food conditioned bears could be active.
In the days following the attack, Tennessee state wildlife officials captured and euthanized all four bears. Agency officials believed that because the bears had become so food conditioned and because they had already been involved in an attack on a person, the bears would always pose a threat to human safety.
News reports that surfaced after the events indicated that people in the area had been feeding bears for some months.
The tremendous public outcry over the incident focused attention on the critical need to properly handle garbage and other types of people food in bear country. The city of Gatlinburg already had an ordinance requiring residents near the national park boundary to use bear-proof garbage cans and dumpsters. State regulations prohibit feeding bears. Yet, with hundreds of overnight rental cabins and second homes in the area, the rules are not always followed.
Crowds of tourists often gather to watch bears scavenge through unsecured dumpsters and trash cans. Many individuals and groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, have decried the incident and called for stepped-up enforcement of existing rules.
A similar bear incident occurred over the summer in the same area. A local resident stopped his car to photograph a mother bear and two cubs. When he stopped, his pet dachshund escaped and ran toward the bears. The man attempted to intercede and the mother bear swatted him, inflicting a six inch gash in his cheek.
State wildlife officials attempted to capture the mother bear, but were unsuccessful. They did capture the two cubs, which are being reared at the Appalachian Bear Rescue in Townsend, TN. They will be raised with minimal human contact and eventually be released back into the wild.
Both incidents also underscore why the park service does not allow pets on most park trails.
Of the events, park superintendent Dale Ditmanson said, they “point to the need for some improved interagency communication, more visitor education, and tighter enforcement.”