Black Bears Icons of the Mountain Forests

The Black Bears are the beloved icons of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, more regionally known as the Blue Ridge, Smoky Mountains. Black Bears are indigenous to North America only and are also known as the American Bear...Ursus Americanus. They represent what is wild, beautiful and free, a symbol of the good life in its natural state. A life that not long ago was threatened with extinction, a loss we as a nation could not afford, a deficit we could not bare. Thanks to naturalist, wildlife agencies and concerned citizens for the Black Bears of North America, the bears are once again thriving in our wilderness lands, yet they are far from being considered out of danger.

The Blue Ridge Highlander has longed to cover this unique symbol of the high mountain country of the southeastern United States. It is a subject we felt we couldn't just gloss over and felt it was necessary to pay due respect to our beloved furry friends with an extensive feature story. What we discovered in our research is that one feature story couldn't cover what all we wanted to share with our readers, that they might also understand the wonders and life of the Black Bear.

I must admit that before I decided to do a story on Black Bears I personally knew little about these big furry creatures. I knew all the standard information like, they're larger than the average size man, bears live in the woods, mostly, and they looked soft and cuddly when they're not mock charging or growling. I knew that kids love stuffed toy bears, dads love big stuffed and mounted bears and mom's love bear art collectables for mountain home decorations. I knew that Smoky the Bear wears a ranger hat and asks us all to "please prevent forest fires," and that "only you can prevent forest fires." I knew that some overly confident bears think their smarter than the average ranger, and oh yes, that all bears given the chance love to steal picnic baskets, which is a cause for great concern in the conflict between humans and bears. We were surprised to find out that Black Bears come in four-color models, cinnamon, blue-black, blue-gray glacier and a rare special limited addition that comes in white.

Most of my previous knowledge about Black Bears was pure speculation, yet not for the lack of not wanting to know more. That's why Mrs. Highlander and I decided to explore the characteristics, customs, and lifestyle of Black Bears, including a tale of a bear/human relationship as big as a mountain for this special series of Highlander feature stories.

Bear sightings were once commonplace in the Blue Ridge, Smoky Mountains, in spite of the fact that Black Bears have been hunted at times to near extinction by settlers and hunters, while logging destroyed most of their natural habit. Before the increase in the human population within these mountains during the late 19th thru the 20th Centuries, bears roamed more freely throughout these mountains, as well as the valleys, hills and prairies east of the Mississippi River. Bear and human relationships have changed drastically since those times. First they were considered only game and hunted, during the logging days they were considered expendable, then during the founding of our National Parks, bears were embraced with fun and admiration, after that sentimental embrace, we had to distance ourselves from them in order to preserve them.

The first time I crossed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Newfound Gap Road during the mid 1960's, my family and I spotted 13 Black Bears in one trip over the mountain. There they were, crossing the road, blocking traffic, posing for tourist and helping themselves to handouts and open garbage cans, which at the time was an unbeknownst powder keg towards the possibility of total Black Bear extinction.

Today, even though lost habitations is still a very serious problem, it is the more sustained effort towards controlled garbage disposal and more non-accessible human food supplies, that have the Black Bears reconciled to live more naturally in solitary, deep in the mountain forest. Many Black Bear have had to leave their, "easy pickins' days" to times gone by. The problem is, some bears just can't break the "goodies" habit and attraction they have for the human side of the fence. This attraction is still causing a serious concern for the decline of the Black Bear and their offspring in the southeastern and northeastern United States.

The Blue Ridge Highlander's concerns for Black Bear preservation will be reflected in these feature stories along with what the Highlander discovered about the natural lives and habits of our nation's one of a kind bear species, also known as the American Bear.

Along our written and photographed journey, the Blue Ridge Highlander will introduce you to a few natural admirers, caretakers and friends who have devoted their life to this endeavor, all for the love of Black Bears.

Due to the volume of copy and photos for this special Black Bear feature, the Highlander has decided to break the content into several stories about the Black Bears for more convenient reading.

The Highlander

Read our other Tales within the Black Bears of the Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains

Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains
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