By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer
Kathy Sherrard and Anne Allison have dedicated their lives to educating the public about black bears.
For the past three years the Franklin women have hosted numerous educational forums throughout Western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee for the Appalachian Bear Rescue, a nonprofit group that reintroduces orphan cubs into the wild.
“We are just passionate about teaching people how to co-exist with bears,” Sherrard said.
“We feel that it is so important to get the right message, especially with so many people coming into our area,” she said. “They want to get out into the wilderness, but they don’t like it when (the bears) come up on their front porch.”
Both women are self-taught when it comes to black bear behavior. Sherrard and Allison have volunteered for three months at a time at a sanctuary in Minnesota.
“We learned a lot about bears through observation,” she said. In their spare time, the women are constantly reading books about the animals.
Appalachian Bear Rescue
The Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR) program based in Townsend, Tenn., has been placing cubs and yearlings back into the wild since the late 1990s. Cubs become orphans for several reasons — the mother was killed by a hunter or hit by a car. When this happens, the state game commission will take the baby bear to ABR.
Since its formation, more than 20 cubs have been reintroduced into the wild by ABR. This month the organization is planning to release four more cubs.
In 1996, the rescue group formed after a frost killed the berry and nut crops. The lack of food for black bears can create some problems. Black bears bulk up for the winter months and the lack of food can cause the bears to venture into public places such as residential areas or across major highways for food, Sherrard explained. That means more bear-human encounters and potentially more bear deaths.
“It causes them to range further,” she said.
The food crop also determines the number of cubs that will be born in January. If a hard mast is not strong in an area, the black bears will terminate the pregnancy, she said. A pregnant sow is able to determine instinctivelyhow much weight they gain.
Orphan cubs that ABR rehabilitees remain free of human contact and reside in a 2.5-acre pen where they forage for food and co-exist with other cubs.
An 8-foot chainlink fence covered with a black material blinds the bears from human contact. The only person who has contact with the bears is curator Lisa Stewart. She feeds the bears a natural diet by using a scoop to hurl the food over the fence and scatters it throughout the pen.
Up to nine bears can reside in one pen, and the interaction between the orphans is crucial to their development, Sherrard said. Because the cubs are not with their mothers, their survival techniques are taught by the bears in the pen.
“Its amazing how quickly they learn from each other,” Sherrard said.
Once the bears have gained enough weight they are released into the wild each fall.
For more information about ABR or to donate visit www.appalachianbearrescue.org.