GPS study: nearly all bears leave Smokies for food

Researchers have completed a breakthrough study that used GPS collars to track black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The results are shattering some long-held beliefs about where the animals travel for food. It may also force entire counties to rethink their bear-proofing policies.

“We always thought there were two kinds of bears. You had ‘front-country bears’ that show up in campgrounds or communities along the boundary of the park. But we thought around 95 percent of bears in the park were ‘back-country bears’ that went about their business, living in the woods, with very little contact with humans. This research shows that was an absolute fallacy,” said Joe Clark with the USGS.

Braunstein’s project makes a myth of “front-country” and “back-country” labels for bears. Of more than 50 bears tracked, almost all of the animals traveled outside the national park to find food. That was the case if the bear was collared while seeking food in a parking lot or minding its business deep in the woods.

“Bears are leaving the park at all sides of the boundary. It’s not just the Gatlinburg area. If he [a bear] is not getting food in Gatlinburg, it doesn’t mean he’s not going to go to Cataloochee, or Cosby, or go to Townsend,” said Braunstein. “The bears you see on one side of the park can be the same bears you see on the other side.”

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