Tuesday, July 22, 2014 · 9:40 p.m.
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From this graph, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of Tennesseans are not opposed to having more bears in the state. (Graphic: TWRA)

Tennesseans welcome, or at least are not opposed, to having more bears in their backyards. That is according to a recent survey commissioned by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

TWRA biologists commissioned the survey because the natural range of black bears continues to expand. Bear sightings used to be extremely rare. However, more recently, in many areas, including places very close to Chattanooga, black bear sightings have become almost commonplace.

"Nuisance" bears have become a significant issue in parts of Tennessee near Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the surrounding areas. Complaints are common, and wildlife officers spend a great deal of time dealing with problem bears. TWRA officials said bears can now be found in areas of the Cumberland Plateau, including Signal Mountain, and transient bears have been documented as far west as Memphis. The cause of this expansion can be attributed to the growth of the Tennessee population as well as the influx of bears from numerous other states. There is strong evidence to suggest that black bears are starting to reclaim their traditional range.

Bears most often become a "nuisance" when people leave garbage out. One future possibility in bear management is that individuals who live in high-population areas may be required to have "bear-proof" garbage receptacles. (Photo: Contributed)

Concerned that such problems may soon become more widespread, TWRA Wildlife Division Chief Daryl Ratajczak said he needed some better information about the potential "social impact" of an increasing bear population. In other words, will people really tolerate bears in their backyards?

It appears the answer is affirmative.

For the survey, conducted by a company called Responsive Management, TWRA divided the state into three distinct areas: Established Bear Region, Establishing Bear Region (including Chattanooga) and a Non‐Bear Region. They surveyed about 400 randomly selected adults in each region.

Asked if they support having bears in Tennessee, a large majority of all those surveyed (87 percent) said they "support" bears in Tennessee, including a majority who "strongly support" (57 percent).

Although public support did decrease the closer the bear population gets to an individual’s residence, almost three‐quarters (72 percent) of Tennesseans support the idea of having bears within their county.

Ratajczak said that at this point, there are no definite plans to change TWRA's bear-management strategy. But it does mean they are "armed with both types of information (biological and cultural)" to develop a management strategy in the future.

Click here to read the entire survey.

Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.

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