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Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Video shows people feeding bears from balcony of Smoky Mountain lodge, violating law

'Please do not feed the bears.'

The signs are posted throughout America's National Parks as well as well as other protected areas nationwide.

But that didn't stop a group of people from disobeying the law in East Tennessee.

Footage shot June 25 by Michelle Payne shows people purposely tossing food to a family of bears behind the Sidney James Lodge in downtown Gatlinburg, also called the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was not immediately known if city officials cited the violators.

Video obtained by USA TODAY shows a group of unidentified people − including some young children − on a balcony dropping snacks from a lower floor of the mountain lodge to the ground below.

Payne said a police officer came by and scared the bears off with a siren but the animals returned later in search of more food.

USA TODAY has reached out to the lodge and the Gatlinburg Police Department.

Bear cub pulled from tree for selfie:No charges filed in case

Lodge guests feed bears from their balconies.

Violators who feed bears face up to $5K fine, jail time

According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, feeding bears and other wildlife is illegal.

In addition to citations for feeding bears, under Gatlinburg city law, people can be cited for littering and improper food storage. Violators face up to a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail if convicted.

In the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, visited by more than 13 million people last year, it's also illegal to touch, disturb, or willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards, or any distance that disturbs the animal.

Don't feed the bears: For your protection and the bears'

Avoiding feeding bears is for both human protection and the animals, experts say.

People should avoid feeding wildlife because the animals may become "aggressive toward people." 

Experts also recommend people keep food and garbage packed while they are not using the items.

Contributing Kayla Jimenez.

Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at and follow her on X @nataliealund.

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