Bears in Great Smoky Mountain Park Wearing GPS Trackers

21 Aug 2017

Between the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, you’ll find the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The spread out landscape is filled with a plethora of year-round blooming wildflowers and lush forests. Rivers, streams, and waterfalls emerge along hiking routes that encompass a section of the Appalachian Trail. On top of Clingmans Dome that’s the highest peak and offers scenic views of mist-covered mountains is an observation tower.

In the Smoky Mountains, you may have noticed some black bears with GPS tracking technology around their necks. These are the bears used in a multi-year study to see how they’re getting human food.

Lauren Davis, Anchor for Local 8 News, had a conversation with park rangers regarding why they’re using the bears for tracking purposes.

While driving on Sevier County’s Bear Cub Way, Jennie Berger saw a mother bear with her two cubs. She also noticed a GPS tracking device around her neck.

Park rangers informed Local 8 News about the GPS tracking program and told them it was a 3-year study to monitor the bears year round. Bill Stiver who’s the Wildlife Biologist for Great Smoky Mountain National Park said, “I can come into my office, pull up data and see where they are. It’s like a video game.”

Stiver’s using the GPS tracking devices to figure out where outside the park the bears are getting the human food. He said human food is not a good thing for the bears since it creates more human-bear conflicts that are not good for the bears.

According to Stiver, it’s all about protecting both the people and the bears in the end.

Thirty bears, both males and females, are wearing a GPS monitor. These bears have already made contact with humans. Jessica Giacomini, a UT Masters student, said they are targeting the bears that are getting into dumpsters and campgrounds around the park.

She said that they’ve been really surprised with what they’ve seen and she’s amazed by how far the bears are traveling. Some male bears alone have traveled crazy amounts when they leave the park and look for females, she said.

Park rangers are reminding visitors to keep their food locked up so it doesn’t attract the bears to that area, like the bear that Jennie filmed. By attracting the bears to that area, it could end up in the bears’ death.

They’ll keep the GPS monitoring “necklaces” on the bears until the study is over next summer. After the study is complete, they’ll use all the data they collected from the tracking devices to ensure food is being locked up in the problem areas.

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