Bear Necessities: GPS Tracking Helps Biologists Study Black Bears

If you’re visiting White Oak Lodge and Resort this spring, you may very well come across bears on your bikes or hikes since they are just coming out of hibernation.

And here’s a cool bear fun fact: biologists are now using GPS technology to study black bears in the Smokies, determining their habits along with environmental risks that could endanger them.

For the first time, biologists are using a new GPS tool to track black bears within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. “Just to see what her habits are, what her behaviors are,” explained biologist Ryan Williamson, “What habitats she is using and how she is getting around in the landscape.”

Finding their dens hasn’t always been this easy and still brings a difficult trek. “Female bears that are going to have newborn cubs will be in a tree den in the Smokies,” said Williamson.

Williamson and his team spent the summer collaring the bears, and now he checks on them in hibernation to learn what changes the four months of winter have brought.

Due to a food shortage, he expects many females may not have enough weight to reproduce.

“Bears have a biological system that allows them to reabsorb a fertilized egg in them so they don’t become pregnant,” explained Williamson, “So when there’s not enough food for her and she’s not healthy enough to have yearlings or cubs, then she will not reproduce.”

This adventure marked a first for Great Smoky Mountain National Park Deputy Park Superintendent Clay Jordan.

“I’ve been working around bears for some 30 years, but to have this opportunity is definitely a highlight,” said Jordan. “The better we understand about how they move, then the better we can find ways to protect the bears.”

Bears start to make their way out of hibernation as early as March, so anyone visiting The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is urged to secure all garbage and anything that attracts bears (especially around your cabin or condo at White Oak Lodge and Resort).

When hiking or exploring Gatlinburg’s natural surroundings, always use caution when you encounter wildlife.

Have you seen bears during your Great Smoky Mountain travels? Tell us about your favorite wildlife encounter in the comments below.

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Victoria Hoffman

A native of New Jersey, Victoria isn't entirely sure how she ended up in Kansas City, but has enjoyed writing, editing, creating, communicating and marketing for high-profile accounts throughout the city ever since. In her spare time, Victoria is an actress (and active) with local community and city theatre.