The bear that died after being struck by a vehicle on Highway 25-E on Thursday was likely a member of the scavenging sloth – the name for a group of bears – that lives around the landfill in South Hamblen County, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Recourses Agency.
Matt Cameron, TWRA outreach and communications coordinator, says bear sightings have been frequent in that area over the last decade, but it’s unclear how many bears live in Hamblen County. He says getting an accurate count is difficult because female bears, called sows, expel their young adult male offspring, called boars, to ensure genetic variation.
“They’re not uncommon,” the TWRA officer said. “One getting hit is uncommon.”
The bear found dead Thursday morning was about 4 feet long and weighed about 100 pounds. Based on the size, Cameron said, the bear was likely a yearling that was born about 18 months ago.
Another possibility is that the bear was born in Hawkins County, which has a much higher established bear population. Cameron says bears are extremely good swimmers and can easily cross Cherokee Lake into Hamblen County.
Cameron says the bear population in East Tennessee has undergone “exponential growth” since legal hunting was permitted in 1971 following a three-year hunting moratorium.
He says 759 black bears were legally harvested in 2018, Bear hunting is legal in approximately 20 Tennessee counties, including Cocke and Greene in the Lakeway Area.
The sale of bear parts, including gall bladders, which are highly valued for medicinal purposes, is illegal in all circumstances in Tennessee, according to Cameron.
The TWRA spokesman says black bear sightings and nuisance calls likely will less frequent over the next couple of weeks because black raspberries are ripening and the bears will be in the thickets gorging themselves while the berries are in season.
“It’s good for the bears and good for the residents,” Cameron said.