The fall of 1989 was hard on the black bears of the Smokies. A severe hard mast (nut and seed) shortage had driven them into lower elevations to look for food. The resulting bear/human conflicts left an unusually large number of orphaned cubs.
A group of dedicated volunteers decided to form Appalachian Black Bear Rehabilitation & Release Center, Inc. to help the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park care for the orphaned cubs of the Smokies. Appalachian Bear Rescue was “born” on July 31, 1990, when these volunteers obtained a corporate charter, formed a board of directors and applied for tax exempt status, which the Internal Revenue Service granted in February of 1991.
Known then as the Appalachian Bear Center, the early years were devoted to raising money, locating land and building a fenced area to care for the bears. Volunteers dug deep trenches so the fences could be sunk several feet into the ground to prevent the bears from digging their way to freedom. In 1995-1996 dollars, the fence cost about $35,000.
Our very first bear, “Zero”, arrived on July 8, 1996 and was released on September 20, 1996. Our first full-time curator, Daryl Ratajczak, started on June 9, 1997, and promptly began caring for three yearling bears. By 1999, word of ABC’s success led other states to ask for its help. Since then Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky and South Carolina have all asked ABC/ABR to help care for their severely malnourished cubs.
From 1996 through early 2012 Appalachian Bear Rescue had a total of three curators. ABR now has three curators on staff as of July 2015.
Coy Blair was hired in July 2012 as full-time curator. Blair graduated Magna Cum Laude from Maryville College in 2009 with a degree in biology. He has also obtained certification as a nonprofit professional by the American Humanics organization.
Janet Dalton was hired in 2013 as a weekend curator. She has worked with the organization as an education and community outreach volunteer for more than six years and completed the Black Bear Field Study Courses in 2008 and 2009 at the Wildlife Research Institute in Minnesota. She completed an East Tennessee State University EdD doctoral program in 2013.
Rick Noseworthy, the charter president of Appalachian Bear Rescue, was hired in April 2012 to be a assistant curator. Rick is a retired professional forester with more than 30 years of conservation and environmental protection experience.
Many improvements were made to the facility during 2012 including the addition of two storage buildings, a cub nursery, and a building for refrigerated food storage (known as the Cubby Cooler). The outdoor pens and habitats were retrofitted and safety corridors were constructed for safe and easy entrance into the enclosures.
We continue to work closely with TWRA and GSMNP officials to help black bear cubs in need.