TDOT installs bear-proof trash cans along the state’s scenic byways

Nashville, Tenn. – In advance of summer travel and to help preserve Tennessee’s natural beauty and protect both wildlife and visitors along the state’s scenic byways, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) are reminding residents and visitors to be vigilant and safe during the summer travel season, especially when it comes to bears.

According to TWRA’s bear-conflict reports, the summer travel season is when bears in Tennessee become more active. TDOT also sees an uptick in litter on the state’s roadways and along scenic byways in the summer and reminds residents that food waste is litter, which attracts animals to roadways, endangering them and motorists.

“Tennessee’s scenic byways are renowned for their breathtaking vistas, rich history, and diverse ecosystems, attracting tourists and nature enthusiasts from around the globe,” said Deputy Governor and TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley. “However, with summer travel and the influx of visitors along the byways, comes the challenge of managing waste responsibly, especially in areas inhabited by wildlife. We encourage visitors and residents alike to enjoy our beautiful state and dispose of litter responsibly.”

“Black bears are one of Tennessee’s state treasures and it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep them wild and keep them alive,” says Dan Gibbs, TWRA Black Bear Coordinator. “Bear management experience has shown that bears attracted to human food sources, or that are deliberately fed by humans, have a relatively short life.”

To keep bears and other wildlife from accessing food waste and to help spread the message about litter prevention, TDOT has installed 80 Nobody Trashes Tennessee-branded bear-proof trash cans along seven of the state’s 13 scenic byways. The heavy-duty containers are specifically designed to withstand the curiosity and strength of bears, ensuring that waste is securely contained, and wildlife remains unharmed.

“Our bear population is approximately 5,000 – 6,000 statewide, with the majority found east of Cookeville,” says Gibbs. “We are getting more reports from Middle Tennessee each year with an occasional sighting from West Tennessee.” TWRA receives more than 1,200 bear conflict reports annually, which does not include reports from parks, police departments, and other agencies. Eighty percent of the calls are related to bears accessing trash.

In addition to safeguarding wildlife, the installation of bear-proof trash cans supports the two agencies’ broader efforts to protect wildlife and promote environmental responsibility. The trash cans have been installed along the following scenic byways: Great River Road, Woodlands Trace, Tennessee River Trail, Cumberland National Scenic Byway, Sequatchie Valley National Scenic Byway, Cherohala Skyway, and East Tennessee Crossing Byway.

TWRA offers the following guidelines to minimize many unnecessary and potentially dangerous bear encounters.

Never feed or approach bears!

When camping in bear country, keep all food stored in a vehicle and away from tents, and dispose of food waste in the proper receptacles.

If you see a black bear from a distance, alter your route of travel, return the way you came, or wait until it leaves the area.

Make your presence known by yelling and shouting at the bear to scare it away.

If approached by a bear, stand your ground, raise your arms to appear larger, yell, and throw rocks or sticks until they leave the area.

Never run from a black bear! This will often trigger its instinct to chase.

If a black bear attacks, fight back aggressively and do not play dead! Use pepper spray, sticks, rocks, or anything you can find to defend yourself. If cornered or threatened, bears may slap the ground, “pop” their jaws, or “huff” as a warning. If you see these behaviors, you are too close! Slowly back away while always facing the bear.

TWRA encourages residents to contact them immediately if they witness aggressive behavior by black bears at: tn.gov/twra/law-enforcement#accident. For additional information about what to do when encountering a bear while hiking and camping visit, bearwise.org.