Only one bear species, black bears (Ursus americanus) live in the Volunteer State. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency website refers to them as "state treasures." Tennessee boasts several bear sanctuaries, consisting of a combination of public and private lands. Homeowners in areas that bears inhabit must learn to live with the bruins -- that means using bear-proof garbage cans and not filling bird feeders other than in the winter. Otherwise, bird feeders become bear feeders.
Meet the Black Bears
At maturity, black bears stand about 3 feet high at the shoulder, on all fours, and might reach 6 feet standing. Male black bears weigh approximately 250 pounds in the summer, while the much smaller females can weigh as little as 100 pounds. By autumn, it's not unusual for bears' weights to have doubled after they indulge in summer's bounty. In the wild, a bear might live up to 15 years. The National Park Service website notes that bears who feast on too much garbage and food offered by humans live only half as long.
Their Tennessee Home
Black bears aren't found throughout the state. They live primarily along Tennessee's eastern border, in Blount, Carter, Cocke, Greene, Jefferson, Johnson, Monroe, Polk, Sevier, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties. Population density is highest in the Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where bears are major attractions for visitors. These federally managed habitats, established in the 1930s, helped black bear numbers increase in the state after near eradication.
Bear Mating and Reproduction
Mating season for Tennessee black bears occurs in July. After an approximately seven-month gestation, cubs are born in late January while their mothers sleep. In Tennessee, bears often den in tree cavities or large hollow stumps. Black bears don't actually hibernate in winter but fall into deep sleep from which they sometimes wake. Females give birth to between one and four cubs, which come out of the den with her in early spring. They live with their mother until the age of 18 months.
Because the number of black bears has increased dramatically in recent decades, Tennessee allows a bear hunting season. However, bear hunting isn't permitted in reserves set aside for bears, with some rare exceptions. Tennessee bear hunting season runs from late September until the end of the year. The limit per hunter is one bear of either sex annually. No cubs or female bears with cubs may be hunted. The TWRA reports that 571 bears were harvested in 2009, noting that the bear population is greater than it has been in the past century and a half.
- Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency: Black Bears in Tennessee
- Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency: New Era in Black Bear Management in Tennessee
- National Park Service: Black Bears
- Bear Trust: Microhabitat Characteristics of American Black Bear Nest Dens
- Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency: Tennessee Bear Seasons and Regulations
- Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images