Summer Travel and Bear Safety in Tennessee

Tennessee authorities urge caution and responsible waste disposal during summer travel to protect wildlife.

Nashville, Tenn. – In preparation for the summer travel season, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) are urging residents and visitors to be vigilant and safe, particularly regarding bear activity along the state’s [scenic byways](

According to TWRA’s bear-conflict reports, bears in Tennessee become more active during the summer travel season. TDOT also notes an increase in litter on the state’s roadways and [scenic byways]( during this time, reminding residents that food waste attracts animals to these areas, posing a danger to both wildlife 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 help prevent bears and other wildlife from accessing food waste, TDOT has installed 80 [Nobody Trashes Tennessee]( bear-proof trash cans along seven of the state’s 13 [scenic byways]( These heavy-duty containers are 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, excluding 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 broader efforts of TDOT and TWRA to 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 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 proper receptacles.

– If you see a black bear from a distance, alter your route, 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, as this may 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 available to defend yourself. If a bear slaps the ground, “pops” its jaws, or “huffs” as a warning, 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: []( For more information about bear encounters while hiking and camping, visit [](

*B-roll and soundbites are available for media use and [can be found here](*

About [Nobody Trashes Tennessee](

[Nobody Trashes Tennessee]( is the State of Tennessee’s official litter prevention campaign managed by TDOT. Visit []( to learn more about TDOT’s Adopt-A-Highway program and additional ways to prevent and reduce litter through personal actions, community events, and reporting littering incidents through the [Tennessee Litter Hotline]( (1-877-8LITTER). Join the conversation on Facebook at [nobodyTrashesTN](, [Instagram](, and [X](

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TDOT Suspends Construction for Memorial Day Travel

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will suspend all construction-related lane closures on interstates and state routes from noon on Friday, May 24, through 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, to facilitate smoother travel during Memorial Day weekend.