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Officials with the Great Smoky Mountains urge visitors learn bear safety

BearWise is a list of six specific safety steps to help people stay safe and avoid harmful incidents with bears.

Great Smoky Mountains Natl. Park — The chances of seeing a bear while in the Great Smoky Mountains are higher than many people expect.

"With 14 million visitors and 1,900 bears in the park, it's a pretty common occurrence, said Lisa McInnis, the chief of resource management and science at the park.

She said a bear made contact with a family camping in the mountains on Sunday, ripping their tent and scratching a mother and her 3-year-old daughter early Sunday morning. The family of five was woken by the bear clawing through their tent.

McInnis said the bear approached the tent looking for one thing — food. 

"They have obviously a very powerful sense of smell and it was looking for looking for a snack," she said.

The bear was later captured and euthanized, according to a release from officials. They said it was around 350 pounds, bigger than what is usual for this time of year when natural food sources can still be hard to find. 

McInnis said the best way to prevent bear attacks is to keep food or anything with a strong smell stored away in a secure spot. 

"So anything with smells — candles, deodorant, shampoo, perfume — try to avoid those things when you go camping if you can," she said.

Most of all, experts said people should not feed the bears. They prepared a list of resources to help people stay safe from bears which are available online. The website has six specific basics to stay safe from bears.

  1. Stay alert and stay together
  2. Leave no trash or food scraps
  3. Keep dogs leashed
  4. Camp safely, away from dense cover and natural food sources
  5. Do not approach bears if you see one
  6. Carry bear spray and learn how to use it

McInnis said the bear was euthanized because it was food-conditioned and not afraid of humans, which can be dangerous for people in the park.

"It really represented a pretty significant public safety risk," she said. "So it's unfortunate, but what we can do is go is be better going forward by helping educate each other.” 

Park rangers said it was a tough decision to euthanize the bear. They are asking people to stay BearWise while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains to keep them from having to euthanize the animals.

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