It's become pretty normal to spot a black bear strolling through Gatlinburg. They're practically part of the landscape now! Hearing stories about these bears casually chilling in hot tubs or raiding cars for snacks might sound like something straight out of a Yogi Bear cartoon, but believe it or not, it's just another day in the Smoky Mountains.

Kentucky's Black Bear Population is Growing

It's not just Tennessee that's seeing a rise in bear activity. Neighboring state, Kentucky, is experiencing a bear boom too. According to the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife, the black bear population is on the up and up, and it's happening fast.

Kentucky was once home to a thriving bear population. But things took a nosedive in the early 1900s due to habitat loss, rampant hunting, and a lack of protected areas. However, fast forward to today, and there's been a remarkable turnaround. Thanks to the resurgence of their habitat of lush, mature hardwood forests, black bears are making a comeback. They're migrating back into the Appalachia region from nearby states like West Virginia, Virginia, and of course, Tennessee.

WDKS-FM logo
Get our free mobile app

"Long-term monitoring and ongoing research has identified the core population as concentrated along the Pine, Cumberland, and Black Mountain areas within in Harlan, Letcher, and Pike counties. Their current range also includes the entire eastern region of the Commonwealth along the Southern Appalachian Mountains bordering Virginia and West Virginia. In addition, bears have become increasingly common in McCreary and surrounding counties expanding outward from junction of the Daniel Boone National Forest and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (BSF)." -Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife

KY Dept of Fish and Wildlife
KY Dept of Fish and Wildlife

How to Identify a Black Bear

Black bears are quite the sight to behold! They typically measure between 4 to 6 feet in length with a black body, brown muzzle, and sometimes, a white patch on their chest. These majestic creatures tip the scales anywhere from 120 to 350 pounds, depending on factors like age and gender. But, in 1998, a male black bear made headlines when it was captured and weighed in at a staggering 880 pounds! Now that's one big bear!


Are Black Bears Dangerous to People?

When it comes to encountering black bears, it's important to remember they're wild animals, even though attacks are rare. Typically, they're pretty chill creatures. If you do happen upon one, the key is to stay calm. Screaming won't help. In fact, it might make things worse. Instead, take a deep breath, keep your cool, and slowly back away while speaking in low, soothing tones. Even if they seem a bit grumpy or make a charge, hold your ground.

Now, if things take a turn and you find yourself in a scuffle, remember: playing dead isn't the move here.The National Parks Service advises that you fight back, focusing your efforts on their face and muzzle. But don't stress too much - black bears aren't exactly eyeing you up for dinner. Their diet mainly consists of berries, nuts, insects, and whatever they can scavenge. Although, I'd definitely pass on their favorite snack: grubs and underground yellowjackets. No thanks!

What's Next for Black Bears in KY?

As for what's in store for black bears in Kentucky, the Fish & Wildlife officers are on it. They're busy tagging and tracking bears, keeping tabs on their movements, health, and habits. With habitat regrowth in full swing, the hope is that the bear population will keep booming.

Oddball Kentucky Attractions

Kentucky can be mighty quirky, as evidenced by these oddball attractions that are all a quick drive from Owensboro.

Gallery Credit: Dave Spencer

27 Celebrities from Kentucky Who Aren't Country Musicians

We could have a whole OTHER list of country stars from Kentucky--and athletes, for that matter. But how many of THESE celebrities did you know were from the Bluegrass State?

Gallery Credit: Dave Spencer


More From WDKS-FM