Watch, but don’t feed, the bears

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With the possible exception of obsessed trout fishermen, virtually everyone considers the American black bear to be the symbol of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The beautiful – but not cuddly – creatures are the subjects of several programs at Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., which continues through Jan. 14 at the Music Road Hotel and Convention Center.

Great Smoky Mountains bear along Deep Creek

There are about 1,500 bears in the 500,000 acres of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it’s always a thrill to see one.

Wilderness Wildlife Week visitors know to observe and not approach, but many other people need to absorb the behavioral messages (paraphrased and expanded below) on a flyer distributed by Wildsouth, a non-profit that encourages people to enjoy nature in the South.

* Don’t ever feed bears – even unintentionally by leaving food accessible to them.

(Feeding a bear in the national park is against regulation. That can make the bear too comfortable around humans and lead to dangerous situations. Nuisance bears are relocated. If that fails, they can be euthanized – certainly not the intended outcome of “sharing” a peanut butter sandwich.)

* Never come between a bear and her cubs.

* Most bear encounters simply are delightful opportunities to observe. If you have a different kind of encounter, back up slowly, look as big as possible and make loud noises.

* Remember: You are the visitor. The bears are at home.

Wilderness Wildlife Week is an every-January event in Pigeon Forge. This year’s event offers 288 programs, seminars, hikes and excursions. Participation is free.

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