TWRA biologists say Tennessee's black bear population is beginning to expand far beyond the historical range in the far East Tennessee mountains. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

There were 44 bears taken by hunters in Polk County during the 2012 hunting season. The total bear harvest in Tennessee is 400, according to online harvest reports. Biologists say this is the eighth consecutive year that hunters have harvested more than 300 bears in the state’s bear hunting counties. The record high year was 2011, when hunters took 581 bears.

Black bears were taken in 11 East Tennessee counties during the recently completed season. Cocke County led the way with 85 bears, unseating Sevier County for the top county harvest. Monroe County was second for the second straight year with 64.

Following Polk in the county harvest totals were Carter (41), Sevier (36), Unicoi (27), Greene and Johnson (26), Blount (27), Washington (15) and Sullivan (9).

Tennessee’s black bear population has been steadily increasing over the past 40 years because of several management practices put in place by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, including the establishment of a series of bear reserves throughout the bear habitat; protection of females and cubs; and setting the majority of the bear hunting season later in the year, when most females have gone to the den.