There have been four major threats to the American Black Bear since the European Colonization of North America. They were the Colonial Fur Trade (1699 – 1772), deforestation and habitat loss from commercial logging (1880-1930), American Chestnut blight (1904-Present), and unregulated hunting (Colonization-1979).
Colonial Fur Trade (1699 – 1772). A plague (Rinderpest) (1709-1720) wiped out half of France’s and much of the remainder of Europe’s cattle herds. This is the first of three panzootics. The other two were in 1742–1760, and 1768–1786.
Great Britain banned European imports of cattle from the European continent. Native American tribes, predominately the Cherokee, traded with colonial fur traders for manufactured European made goods and rum. The American Revolution brought the trade to a standstill, however, it practically wiped out the White-Tailed deer, beaver, and negatively impacted all other large species animals (i.e. the American Black Bear).
This GLOBAL TRADE and decimation of native animal populations also negatively impacted the Cherokee way of life. It resulted in them moving out of their towns and becoming farmers and raising hogs in single-family homes dispersed throughout the region.
Points of Reference for the map in Appalachia Georgia: The location of Fort Chastain is now in Lake Blue Ridge. Fort Hetzel was in the vicinity of Georgia Highway 515, 1st Avenue, and Mulberry Street. There is a marble marker at that intersection with some historical interpretation about the fort.
Unicoi Turnpike slides courtesy of Gerald D. Hodge, Jr., former Executive Director of the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association (TOHA).
Why is this important? Even though we are not cutting timber on such a grand scale as in years past, we are moving further and further into the Black Bear’s habitat which raises the probability of Human / Black Bear conflict. We need to educate the public on how to avoid Human / Black Bear conflict and coexist in the “Wildland-Urban” interface.
Deforestation/Habitat Loss. In the late 18th (1700’s) and early 19th (1800’s) Centuries the preponderance of buildings, ships/boats, infrastructure (bridges, corduroy roads), fuel for heating, steam engines, and fencing was wood. If you want to see an example of deforestation from atypical regional deforestation due to human habitation, look at photographs of in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee at the time of the Civil War. The deforestation during that time period was not from the results of the campaigns fought in and around Chattanooga, but from the consumption of the forests in and around the human habitation. Chattanooga today is far more forested than at the time of the American Civil War.
Missionary Ridge. Georgia Missionary Ridge, Tennessee United States, None. [Photographed between 1861 and 1865, printed between 1880 and 1889] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2012646937/
Copper was discovered in the Copper Basin in 1843. The Hiwassee Mine in Ducktown opened in 1850. Wood was used as fuel for smelting the copper ore in Ducktown and Copperhill. The environmental devastation was pervasive. The State of Georgia began filing lawsuits in 1885, because of the damage to its timber and crops.
Transportation by wagon was extremely problematic. The standard Army wagon (both Federal and Confederate) was a four or six-mule wagon. The dimensions were 3.5 feet wide, 10 feet long, and 2 feet deep. A four-mule wagon could only carry 1,800 lbs maximum over difficult terrain (that would be Appalachia Georgia). A six-mule wagon could only carry about 2,000 lbs maximum over difficult terrain and 4,000 lbs over relatively level ground (that would be +/- approximately 2 % in grade). Now, think about how much wood weighs prior to curing. Wagon transportation limited the ability to transport logs greater of 3.5 ft width X 10 ft long. Logs “cubed” and “weighted” beyond the capacity to be transported.
Transportation in Appalachia Georgia changed in 1890 when the “Old Line Railroad” was completed connecting Knoxville, Tennessee to Marietta, Georgia. The section from Knoxville to Copperhill, Tennessee was built by the Knoxville Southern Railway Company. The Marietta & North Georgia Railway built the section from the Tennessee/Georgia state line to Marietta. This line still exists and is operated as a scenic railroad in a partnership by the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association (TOHA) and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM) to Copperhill, Tennessee. The excursion is a 47-mile scenic ride through the Hiwassee River Gorge and Cherokee National Forest where Bald Eagles, Black Bears, other wildlife have been observed. Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad operates a twelve-mile excursion from Blue Ridge, Georgia to Copperhill.
By the late 1800s, the use of Shay engines, skidders, and the log cranes allowed for large scale logging in remote areas. This allowed areas east and west of the “Old Line” to be extensively harvested of timber to be brought to stations along the line to be transported to sawmills to be milled into lumber. It provided numerous low skill/paying jobs in the short-term. However, in the long-term, environmentally it quaked the area as much as a six-foot in diameter falling tree when it hits the ground.
INSERT PHOTOGRAPH OF SHAY LOCOMOTIVE.
It devastated the forests of Appalachia so much so that multiple affluent philanthropists and politicians began to purchase large tracts of land and put pressure on the U.S. Congress to act in order to prevent further exploitation of Appalachia. The Weeks Act of 1911 allowed the Federal government to purchase privately owned land to be preserved. The Pisgah in western North Carolina in 1916, the Nantahala in southwestern North Carolina in 1920, and the Cherokee in Tennessee in 1920—purchases of 31,000 acres of land in Gilmer, Fannin, Union, and Lumpkin Counties in 1911 became part of the Cherokee National Forest in 1920.
INSERT PICTURE OF BALD RIVER FALLS WITH SHAY LOCOMOTIVE, CHARLES HALL MUSEUM.
The attached pictures are of Bald River Falls in the Cherokee National Forest near Tellico Plains, Tennessee. This is to compare and contrast what was going on in the late 1890s and early 1900s to the forest of Appalachia.
INSERT PICTURE OF GERALD JR. & GERALD SR. IN FRONT OF BALD RIVER FALLS.
The second picture was taken by the founder in July 2016.
American Chestnut. It is estimated that between 3 and 4 billion American chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20th century by blight after its initial discovery in 1904. A disease caused by an Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica, formerly Endothia parasitica). This disease was accidentally introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees.
The American Chestnut was the primary hard mast crop portion of the Black Bear’s diet until its near extinction. This was recently validated in an unofficial experiment conducted by the Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR) in Townsend, Tennessee. Cubs of the Year (i.e. Cubs that were born in January 2019) were given chestnuts and acorns several times simultaneously and dispersed in separate locations using proper ethical protocols to limit human contact. They instinctively went to the chestnuts first and showed a clear preference for them. This was repeated several times.
There are efforts to reintroduce the American Chestnuts back into the eco-system. Efforts are being made to identify surviving trees, get samples, and use the genetics to breed blight-resistant trees. Below are several articles with more details. If you know of a surviving American Chestnut tree, please read the article at this American Chestnut Foundation link! https://www.acf.org/resources/identification/ Contact the American Chestnut Foundation and help them and the American Black Bear out!
Unregulated Hunting. As we discussed in Part 1, hunting of anything animal was not regulated during the Colonial Fur Trade period (1699-1799). The Georgia legislature closed the hunting season in the early 1920s and it would not be reopened until 1979. The Black Bear population had declined to the point that the estimated population in Georgia was in the low 100’s.
Today, the Georgia Black Bear population is healthy. The population is estimated to be 5,000 in North Georgia alone. We asked the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) about the Black Bear population in comparison to the density of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP).
They replied that the GSMNP did a study a few years back and estimated bear densities in the park (presumed to be about as dense as any population in the southeastern U.S.) at around 2.5 bears/square mile. A square mile is 640 acres so that’s about one bear per 256 acres. Anecdotally, it is felt that North Georgia is very similar. However, there are several other population studies currently going on to get a more accurate count of the population.