- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) - Biologists are now tracking nuisance bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with GPS collars.

Wildlife biologist Bill Stiver told the Knoxville News Sentinel (https://bit.ly/1NiyDKS) the collars are providing scientists with a real-time look at the problem bears’ behavior for the first time.

So far, they are tracking two females and three males that were trapped earlier this summer at campgrounds and picnic areas.

“We’re especially interested in seeing how much they’re getting into developed areas outside the park boundary,” Stiver said. “With this tracking system, we’re letting the bears show us where they’re getting their food and garbage.”

Park officials are interested in nuisance bears because they can lose their fear of humans and become dangerous. They are attracted to humans by food, so the park has installed bear-resistant garbage containers at campgrounds and requires backcountry campers to hang their food from cables.

Bears that frequent campgrounds and picnic areas are harassed with paint balls and noisemakers, so they will associate human food with discomfort. As a last resort, bears are relocated. The park currently relocates about one dozen nuisance bears a year.

Smokies bears have previously been tracked using radio telemetry collars, but those signals had to be picked up from an airplane or by crews on the ground.

The GPS collar automatically sends updates of the bears’ whereabouts every two hours while they remain in the park. If they leave the boundaries, park biologists get an email alert, and location updates increase to every 20 minutes.

The GPS tracking project is scheduled to run through 2017. Eventually, 23 bears will be trapped and fitted with the special collars.

The University of Tennessee and the U.S. Geological Survey are participating in the research, which is funded by the National Park Service, Friends of the Smokies, Seven Islands Foundation and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.


Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, https://www.knoxnews.com

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