Black bears (Ursus americanus) are one of Tennessee’s states treasures mostly inhabiting Blount, Carter, Cocke, Greene, Jefferson, Johnson, Monroe, Polk, Sevier, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties along the eastern border of the state. The highest densities of bears reside in the Cherokee National Forest (CNF) and the Great Smokey National Park (GSMNP).
Since the 1970’s, the number of bears has significantly increased in Tennessee. For Example, prior to 1980, the annual harvest in the state was usually less than 20 bears. Today the picture could not be more astounding. Since 2004, Tennessee’s annual bear harvest has exceeded 300 animals! In 2009, a harvest of 571 bears in Tennessee set a new state record.
A key first step to rebuilding Tennessee’s bear population was the establishment of national forests and parks that shelter and protect our sparse bear population. The establishment of the Cherokee National Forest (CNF) and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) in the 1930’s is undeniably the most significant event in the history of bears in Tennessee. Additionally, bear sanctuaries were established and laws against illegal harvests and the hunting of adult females were strictly enforced. In addition to these important management steps, bear populations benefited from the maturation and increased productivity of key oak forest species in protected areas. With careful management and enforcement by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and ecological conditions in their favor, their populations have responded dramatically.
Tennessee’s bear population thrives today largely due to the dedication of the TWRA, CNF, GSMNP, the bear research program at University of Tennessee and the support of Tennessee sportsman license dollars. Today Tennessee’s wildlife, forest, and park service agencies confront new and difficult challenges in managing bear-human conflicts. As human and bear populations increase, and more people move near public lands, bear-human interactions has undoubtedly increased creating potentially dangerous situations for the public and for bears.
Nationwide bear management experience has clearly shown that bears attracted to human food sources, or that are deliberately fed by humans, have a relatively short life. The survival rate of bears receiving food from people is likely a fraction of that of “wild” bears that do not have repeated contact with humans. The deliberate and accidental feeding of bears is socially irresponsible and causes animals to become conditioned and habituated to people. Bears that habituate to human presence eventually become a threat to human safety. The end result is that such bears are often killed by intolerant and/or fearful landowners or have to be destroyed by the TWRA. The fact that “garbage kills bears” is irrefutable.
The primary corrective action to this management dilemma is to simply restrict the access bears have to human foods. However, state and federal agencies have confronted significant challenges in bringing about even moderate changes to human behavior to achieve greater safety for humans and bears. Tennessee residents and visitors can support bears by taking steps to ensure that wild bears remain “wild”, by carefully managing sources of human food or garbage that might attract bears. The wise stewardship of habitat we share with bears is the joint responsibility of both wildlife managers and the public and will be essential for a viable future for our state treasure, the black bears of Tennessee.
Where To Find Bears In Tennessee
Bear Limit: One (1) bear either sex per year.
Cubs or female bears with cubs at side may not be taken at any time. A cub is defined as any bear weighing seventy-five (75) pounds or less.
All harvested bears must be checked out at an official checking station. Bears may not be checked in via the Internet or with the TWRA mobile application. Bears may be whole or field dressed, but must weigh 75 pounds or greater when checked in.
The reproductive sex organs shall remain attached to each bear harvested at least until the bear has been officially checked out at an official bear checking station.
Bear Hunting Zones
For the purpose of these hunting regulations and better wildlife management, the State of Tennessee is hereby divided into five (5) bear hunt zones (BHZ’s) as follows:
BHZ1: Carter, Cocke (North of I-40), Greene, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, & Washington.
BHZ2: Blount, Cocke (South of I-40), Jefferson (East of Hwy 411), Sevier
BHZ3: McMinn (East of Hwy 411), Monroe, Polk (East of Hwy 411 & North of Hwy 64)
BHZ4: Cumberland (North of I-40), Fentress, Morgan, Pickett (East of Hwy 111), & Scott (West of Hwy 27)
Transitional: Bradley, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hancock, Hawkins, Grainger, Jefferson (west of Hwy 411), Knox, Loudon, McMinn (West of Hwy 411), & Polk (West of Hwy 411)
Hunting private property without landowners permission.
Hunting prohibited over a site where bait has been placed to feed or attract wildlife unless the bait has been removed at least 10 days prior to hunting.
It is illegal to hunt, shoot at, chase, or kill any wild animal, wild bird, or wildfowl from a public road right-of-way, or from any motorized vehicle, or to shoot any firearms across or from any public road or vehicle.
Bear hunting is not permitted in bear reserves unless a special exception is provided by proclamation.
Taking Wild Hogs During Bear Dog Hunts
Individuals licensed to hunt bears may take wild hogs during any proclaimed bear-dog hunt.
2016 Bear Seasons
Zone 1 Zone 2 Zone 3 Zone 4** Transitional Gun/Muzzleloader/Archery
Oct. 31- Nov. 4
Nov. 28-Dec. 17
Sept. 26-Oct. 2
Oct. 31- Nov. 4
Nov. 28- Dec. 22
Oct. 31- Nov. 4
Nov. 28-Dec. 11
Dec. 29-Jan. 1
Closed Closed Archery Only
Sept. 24- Oct. 21 Sept. 24- Oct. 21 Sept. 24- Oct. 21 Sept. 24-Oct. 21 Sept. 24-Oct. 21 Gun/Muzzleloader/Archery
Nov. 19-22 Nov. 19-22 Nov. 19-22 Closed Closed Young Sportsman*
G/M/A (No Dogs)
Oct. 29-30 Oct. 29-30 Oct. 29-30 Closed Closed
* Youths 6-16 years of age may participate. Young sportsmen must be accompanied by a non-hunting, adult, 21 years of age or older, who must remain in a position to take immediate control of the hunting device and who must also comply with fluorescent orange regulations, as specified for legal hunters. Multiple youths may be accompanied by a single qualifying adult.
** The following areas within BHZ4 are closed to bear hunting: Big South Fork River and Recreation Area, Scott State Forest, and Obed National Scenic River Corridor.
2016 Bear Dog Training Season
No bears may be taken. No firearms or archery equipment may be possessed. Bear dog training is permitted one half-hour before legal sunrise to one half hour after legal sunset.
The following zones are open for a bear dog training season during daylight hours only:
BHZ 1 and BHZ 2
Aug. 20-Sep. 25, 2016
No bears may be taken. No weapons may be possessed.
Sep. 7-16, 2016
No bears may be taken. No weapons may be possessed.
2005 Bait Station Surveys
Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July 2005 in 12 East Tennessee counties by 31 TWRA personnel. A total of 27 areas were surveyed that consisted of 408 bait sites. Bears visited 235 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 57.6%. This was a decline of approximately 5% from the previous year. Of the 27 areas surveyed, 59% (n=16) showed declines in visitation rates. Furthermore, all counties reported declines in visitation rates except for Blount.
2006 Bait Station Surveys
Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July in 12 East Tennessee counties by 28 TWRA personnel. A total of 28 areas were surveyed that consisted of 424 bait sites. Bears visited 267 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 63%. This was an increase of approximately 5% from the previous year. Of the 28 areas surveyed, 64% (n=18) showed an increase in visitation rate. Furthermore, all counties except Carter, Polk, and Washington reported increases in visitation rates.
2007 Bait Station Surveys
Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July in 11 east Tennessee counties by 28 Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency personnel, interns, and volunteers. A total of 28 areas were surveyed that consisted of 418 bait sites. Bears visited 301 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 72%. This was an increase of 9% from the previous year. Of the 28 areas surveyed, 71% (n=20) showed an increase in visitation rate. Furthermore, all counties except Monroe and Unicoi reported increases in visitation rates.
2008 Bait Station Surveys
Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July in 11 east Tennessee counties by 26 Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency personnel, interns, and volunteers. A total of 29 areas were surveyed that consisted of 435 bait sites. Bears visited 243 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 56%. This was a decrease of 16% from the previous year. Of the 29 areas surveyed, 59% (n=17) showed a decrease in visitation rate. Furthermore, all counties except Unicoi and Washington reported decreases in visitation rates.
2009 Bait Station Surveys
Black Bear Bait Station Survey was conducted during the month of July in 11 east Tennessee counties by >25 Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency personnel, interns, and volunteers. A total of 29 areas were surveyed that consisted of 423 bait sites. Bears visited 280 bait sites that accounted for a visitation rate of 70%. This was an increase of 14.1% from the previous year but similar to 2007. Of the 29 areas surveyed, 55% (n=16) showed an increase in visitation rate. Furthermore, all counties except Sullivan and Unicoi reported increases in visitation rates.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission Proclamation - Feeding of Black Bears Prohibited
Pursuant to the authority granted by the Title 70, Tennessee code Annotated, and Sections 70-1-302 and 70-5-101 thereof, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency hereby proclaims the following regulations pertaining to the feeding of black bears:
Sections I. Black Bear Feeding Prohibited
It is unlawful to intentionally or knowingly feed a black bear or intentionally or knowingly leave food or garbage in a manner that attracts bears. It is also unlawful to engage in any indirect of incidental feeding of bears if the activity occurs after the notice from either the City of Gatlinburg or a law enforcement officer thereof or from an employee of the Tennessee Wildlife resources Agency to the person responsible for such indirect or incidental feeding. Such notification shall include the type of activity which is prohibited. Further such activity by the responsible person after notice shall be a violation of this section.
Section II. Areas Closed to the Feeding of Black Bears
For the purpose of this proclamation, areas closed to the feeding of bears include the Corporate Limits of the City of Gatlinburg and Chalet Village North Subdivision, as posted. A more complete description may be found on file in the office of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in Nashville, Tennessee.
Violation of this law is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 6 months in jail.
Gatlinburg City Ordinance 2188
Section 8-111 Animal Resistant Garbage Collection Devices
From and after June 1, 2000, all garbage, containers, dumpsters or equipment used to store garbage, not otherwise located within an approved enclosure prior to municipal or private pick-up in the areas described as follows: The entire area within the city limits on the west side of the Foothills Parkway: the area north of the National prong of the Little Pigeon River between Parkway and the Foothills Parkway boundary bounded on the north by LeConte Street and the Skyland Park and the Winfield Heights Subdivisions: the entire area between the National Park Service boundary on the South and Southeast city limits from Low Gap Road on the east and to the South of Highway 321 and Parkway, and as shown on a map dated December, 1998 on file at the offices of the City Manager and incorporated herein by reference, shall be of a type which shall be resistant to animals being able to open, overturn or remove garbage from them. Each type of container shall be of a design approved by the City Building Official. This requirement shall not apply to containers that are also enclosed within fences or other enclosures which do not allow entry by scavenging animals or are located inside a structure such as a house, building or other enclosed structure and are taken to a City or County approved garbage collection site by the owner.
Section 8-112. Enclosures
All garbage containers in said areas of a type which do not meet City standards as being animal resistant shall be fully enclosed in a manner to prevent entry by animals. Such enclosures shall be approved in advance by the City Building Official. Any enclosure which does not prevent the entry of animals and removal of garbage from the enclosure shall be modified by the owner to prevent such entry and removal. Owners who are notified of a deficient enclosure shall have 60 days to cure such deficiency. All garbage containers of a type not resistant to animals shall be so enclosed by June 1, 2000. Every animal resistant enclosure shall be properly secured. Failure to keep such enclosure secured and closed shall also be a violation of this section.
Section 8-113. Grease
The provisions of Sections 8-111 and 8-112 shall also apply to containers and enclosures used to store grease and the contents of grease traps.
Section 8-114. Restaurants
All restaurants within the city limits of the City of Gatlinburg shall be required to comply with the provisions of 8-111 through 8-113 with regard to garbage containers and/or enclosures for the storage of garbage containers and grease.
Section 8-115. Garbage Collection
The City will not collect garbage which is not placed in an animal resistant container unless it is placed within an approved enclosure, as required in Sections 8-111 through 8-114. The provisions of Sections 8-111 and 8-112 shall not apply to curbside garbage collection containers within the downtown business district.
Section 8-117 Injunctive or Other Relief
In addition to any penalty, violation of the provisions of this chapter may be remedied by obtaining injunctive relief, or by a restraining order, or other appropriate equitable remedy by the city.
Section 8-118 Penalty
Every person who shall violate any provision of this chapter shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $500 per offense. Each day that a violation shall occur shall be a separate offense.