Researchers have completed a breakthrough study that used GPS collars to track black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The results are shattering some long-held beliefs about where the animals travel for food.  It may also force entire counties to rethink their bear-proofing policies.

"We always thought there were two kinds of bears. You had 'front-country bears' that show up in campgrounds or communities along the boundary of the park.  But we thought around 95 percent of bears in the park were 'back-country bears' that went about their business, living in the woods, with very little contact with humans.  This research shows that was an absolute fallacy," said Joe Clark with the USGS.

Clark supervised a research project by University of Tennessee graduate student Jessica Braunstein.  In 2015, the project placed GPS collars on 27 conflict-bears and tracked them for a year.  Then the study collared and tracked a group of well-behaved back-country bears to compare the differences in their behavior.

"The GPS technology and these collars gave us a chance to do something nobody had done before. In the past with the old technology, it would be really easy to just lose track of those animals," said Braunstein.  "To actually see with the GPS how far out all the bears go out of the park, I had no idea. I don't think I realized it was as much of a problem as it was."

Male bears showed a larger overall range than females. The GPS collars demonstrated how some bears had routines of traveling great distances to reach familiar areas.

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