40-year-old Billy Harden and Dawn Cantrell, 27, both from Nashville, Ind., appeared in Sevier County General Sessions Court on Oct. 27, 2016 where they pleaded guilty to the charge of feeding a black bear while vacationing at a rental cabin on Silverbell Lane in Gatlinburg last July.
Feeding black bears is illegal in Tennessee. The violation is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and six months in jail.
Cantrell caused a social media uproar when she posted photos of people, including a child, hand feeding a yearling black bear.
The incident was brought to the attention of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Officer Scott Reasor, the agency’s Bear Enforcement Officer in Gatlinburg, responded to the scene and cited Harden and Cantrell with feeding the black bear.
“Feeding bears eventually results in them becoming completely habituated to approaching people and ultimately becoming dependent on humans as a food source,” said Officer Reasor. “Once this happens, they lose interest in natural foraging and have to be removed from that environment and in some extreme cases, euthanized.”
Judge Dwight Stokes assessed fines of $200 each with adjoining court costs of $270 each to both to Harden and Cantrell.
According to TWRA, the agency has documented 603 black bear incidents as of September. The majority of these cases were simple bear sightings, yet others range from garbage issues and property damage, to bears struck by vehicles and orphaned cubs. There have been only four reported incidents involving aggressive bears.
“In recent years, two separate incidents reveal just how dangerous the intentional feeding of bears can be. In 2009, a 74-year-old woman in Colorado, who had previously been warned against feeding bears by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, was found mauled to death and partially eaten by a black bear in her back yard,” said TWRA spokesperson Matthew Cameron.
“In 2015, an 85-year-old woman from Montana was attacked inside her home by a bear she had been actively feeding. She died from her injuries within days of the attack.”
TWRA announced in September that it was partnering with the City of Gatlinburg and a number of other agencies, businesses and organizations to launch the Bear Wise Task Force to develop educational materials for citizens and tourists, as well as address standards for bear-resistant trash containers.
(Sevier News Messenger - Nov 15, 2016)