Bear time

Tennessee's black bears come out of hibernation in March in search of food. It's important that residents not store human, bird or pet food outside or in their cars as it will attract bears.

While most Americans are hunkering down in an effort to avoid the coronavirus, Tennessee’s black bears are on the move.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), in response to COVID-19 and in order to comply with social distancing recommendations from the CDC and Gov. Bill Lee, is suspending in-person service at all TWRA offices.

TWRA offices will not be open for walk-in service. People can still email ask.TWRA@tn.gov or call any office.

Licenses and boat registration are available online 24/7/365 at www.GoOutdoorsTennessee.com and fishing is a family-friendly activity that follows recommended social distancing guidelines.

The spring turkey season opens March 28 and 29 for the young sportsman. The regular spring turkey season will open April 4 through May 17  statewide.

While COVID-19 is on the forefront of everyone’s mind, food is the only thing bears are thinking about as they awake from hibernation.

According to BearWise.org, a site created and supported by state wildlife agencies and bear biologists, a bear’s internal alarm clocks start ringing in March, with many adult male bears emerging from their dens sometime this month. The mothers and cubs will follow soon afterward.

After spending months hibernating, the bears are famished. That means any food source is fair game, including food in backyards.

Now is the time to double-check your to-do list and make sure there’s nothing that will attract bears to a home or property.

Among the items on the bear checklist is:

• Many meals’ worth of nutrients can be found in the average family’s trash. Is your trash safely stowed in a bear-resistant container or stored inside a locked building until the morning of pick up? 

• Calorie-filled bird feeders often attract bears to homes, so don’t take any chances. Bring your bird feeders in at night, or better yet, take them down and opt for other methods of attracting birds that don’t endanger bears. Have you stored bird seed outside over the winter? Opt for bear-resistant storage or bring inside.

• Don’t leave food, pet food, or anything else with an odor on your screened-in porch or deck overnight or inside a vehicle parked outside.

• Pet food is loaded with calories. Feed pets indoors or pick up food dishes as soon as pets have eaten, clean up any mess and bring dishes inside.

• Chickens and small livestock can be very tempting to a hungry bear. Keep them safely locked up at night or install an electric fence enclosure.

Obviously, bears are not to be approached. While they normally shy away from human contact, a bear that is defending cubs or believes it is in danger can be dangerous. A healthy male Tennessee black bear can be between 4-7 feet long and weigh as much as 500 pounds.

Despite the bears’ size and strength, its future is in the hands of humans. 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.

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