Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021 - 27

University of Tennessee, unaware that his
peer was quickly becoming the world's
foremost black bear expert. A few months
after writing Mike Pelton a letter, Pelton
offered him a project evaluating the effectiveness of relocating " conflict " -formerly
called " nuisance " -bears in the Smokies.
" I've just been unbelievably fortunate, "
says Stiver. " The Lord has blessed me in
a lot of ways in terms of my career. And
some of it, I swear, is just blind luck. "
Part of which was the Smokies position
coming open after a year in Oklahoma.
The Smokies post came with no guarantee, but he packed his bags and headed
east anyway. " I knew what I wanted to do.
... Career-wise, this was the best move I
could've ever made. And I never moved
out of my desk. Over time, I just got promoted to other positions. "
In 2011, after decades of field work, he
transferred his belongings to his retiring
boss's desk about 40 feet away.
" Again, I've just been very fortunate, "
Stiver says. " My career has taken me places
I didn't think I would be able to go just
staying here. Most people end up moving
all over the country to progressively move
up within the Park Service, but I haven't
had to do that. "

When it comes to his staff, the Golden Rule means everything to the easygoing Stiver.
" I try to be respectful of people and
who they are, and hopefully they do the
same thing back. I like to empower my
employees. Just because I'm the supervisor
doesn't mean I know everything. "
Three major things have changed in
the Smokies in the last 30 years, Stiver
says: the number of visitors, the number
of bears and development outside the
park.
" When I first came here, there were 400
to 600 bears, " he says. " Now it's 1,900. "
People cause problems with bears, not
the other way around, when they leave
garbage or pet food in their yard, camp
or picnic area, Stiver asserts. Bears become
more intrusive as they get bolder and
more dependent on human food. " And
then those behaviors can escalate into
bears tearing into cabins, tearing into cars,
tearing into tents. "
Park regulations specify that a visitor
cannot willfully approach within 50 yards
of a bear or elk or disturb any type of wildlife. The latter is more difficult to interpret,
Stiver says. If a deer lifts its head when you
snap a photo, you've disturbed it.

A GPS study published in 2019 revealed that of the bears in the Smokies
that were fitted with tracking collars,
90% of males and 50% of females left the
park at some point.
" It really emphasized the need to work
together, " Stiver says. " We need to work
with our neighbors, with our communities, to help resolve bear issues, both in
and out of the park. "
Starting this year, Stiver and his staff
plan to follow conflict bears that have been
relocated from the GSMNP and Shenandoah to the Cherokee National Forest for
three years and use the data to educate
area residents and improve management
practices. " This is a big project for me because I started out doing this very thing as
a graduate student in 1988, " he says. " It
was all based on ear-tag returns, but now
the technology has changed where I can
literally sit in my office and watch, hourly,
where these bears are. "
Despite his lifelong passion for big animals, the part Stiver enjoys most is mentoring young employees and students.
" The guys that work for me are now
doing hog control-they'll call me up at
11 at night and tell me the story for the
night, and I just listen. It's all good stuff. "

FACING PAGE: Bill Stiver has been luckier than many long-time National Park Service career employees in that he hasn't had
to hop from park to park to progress up the ladder.
BELOW: GPS collars such as this one have established that most of the bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park leave the
park at some point.

BE " BEARWISE "

T

he Great Smoky Mountains National Park recently joined BearWise, a
regional program developed by the Southeastern Association of Fish
& Wildlife Agencies that teaches people in " bear country " how to live
responsibly with the imposing animals. Here are the six " at-home " basics:
* Never feed or approach bears.
* Secure food, garbage and recycling.
* Remove bird feeders when bears are active.
* Never leave pet food outdoors.
* Clean and store grills.
* Alert neighbors to bear activity.
Source: bearwise.org 					

-NH

MAY/JUNE 2021

27


http://www.bearwise.org

Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021

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