Black bear visits Betsy area

Photo by Dave Boyd
This young black bear napping atop a tree near a residential area of West G Street gave state wildlife officers and local residents some excitement on Tuesday afternoon.

By Thomas Wilson
A black bear making a temporary home in a hickory tree near a densely populated residential area in Elizabethton gave state wildlife officers and West G Street residents unexpected excitement on Tuesday afternoon.
Weighing roughly 150 to 200 pounds, the bear was visible in the top branch of a hickory tree located on private property near Grindstaff Chevrolet auto dealership between West Elk Avenue and West G Street.
Elizabethton Police said they were dispatched on a 911 call advising them of the bear's presence around 1:30 p.m. Officers with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency arriving at the scene shortly after 3 p.m. found the bear asleep.
"He's down here looking for food," said Bryan Kegley, the first TWRA officer at the scene. The bear's location nearly 50 feet off the ground prevented wildlife officers from shooting the animal with a tranquilizer dart. "If he's lower to the ground, then we can safely get a shot in him without hurting him," said Kegley.
The bear drew dozens of curious onlookers ranging from senior citizens to toddlers straining their necks to get a view of the animal. Mindy Waters brought her video camera to film the bear after her aunt told her of the situation.
"He was awake and moving around," said Waters. "The only time I've ever seen a bear is behind bars in a zoo."
TWRA officials baited a wildlife containment trap with canned pink salmon to lure the bear down. After the trap was baited, civilians were cleared by police, and several anxious-looking beagles that were tied around the base of the tree were removed.
Shortly before 5 p.m., the bear could be seen moving, and slowly descended the tree to the ground. It appeared to take the bait climbing partially into the trap, but then moved away and sniffed around the ground before skulking into a small thicket along Gap Creek.
Wildlife officers and several citizens trailed the bear as it crossed the creek and forayed onto the railroad tracks at least 30 yards away. The bear took advantage of startled motorists slowing their vehicles along West G Street to dash across the roadway into a residential area.
A woman who was a passenger in a vehicle traveling on West G Street said she got a first-hand glimpse of the bear. "We had heard there was a bear near Grindstaff Chevrolet," said the witness who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "As we neared the business, the bear darted across the road in front of us! He didn't strike the car, but he came within inches."
According to witnesses, the bear then rambled through Clark's Mobile Home Park at 2140 W. G St., before dashing across Gap Creek Road and into a wooded area.
Many residents emerged from their homes to see the bear running through their front yards.
Donna Pistole, of Lot 18, said her son Joshua first saw the bear while he was inside the residence. "He came right through the yard and we saw him cut through the creek," she said.
"I've always wanted to see a bear in person, but not that way," said Kenneth Cable, also a resident of Clark's Mobile Home Park.
Some residents said it was common to see wild animals such as rabbits, squirrels or an occasional possum, but nothing as dramatic as a black bear.
"We've got a zoo going on around here," said Donna DeLoach.
Sightings of black bears have been reported on occasion during the past several months in the Tri-Cities region. A black bear was discovered inside the former Sherrod Library building on the campus of East Tennessee State University earlier this year.
Black bears are omnivorous, meaning they usually eating anything but mainly dine on vegetation. However, black bears sometimes eat dead animals and small creatures primarily for protein, Kegley said. A recently harvested field of corn between the tree line and auto dealership contained several ears of gold yellow corn; an open food source that likely drew the bear, he added.
"They will eat whatever they come across," he said.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American black bear inhabits wooded and mountainous areas throughout most of North America, from Alaska to Florida, and Canada to Mexico. As a rule, black bears are afraid of and shy away from human contact.
A black bear's habitat and daily movement is most influenced by temperature and food availability, according to FWS. Bears usually feed in the cool of the evening or early morning. During the heat of the day, they will seek shade in dense underbrush.
A black bear's home range can be as small as one square mile or as great as 100 square miles.
Wildlife officials urge citizens to properly store or secure all odorous food/non-food items, use plastic bags to seal in odors, store garbage inside buildings, attach spill pans to bird feeders and hang them out of reach (10 feet high), and clear away dense brush and protective cover from their yards.