Spring has sprung in the mountains. People are getting out into their public lands to soak up the sights and sounds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service encourages people to remember simple bear safety when they visit the forest. Cherokee National Forest visitors are required to store unattended food in bear-resistant containers, in a vehicle in solid non-pliable material, or suspend food at least 12 feet off the ground, if you are more than 100 feet from your food or other attractants.
In December 2017, the Cherokee National Forest implemented a closure order to minimize black bear-human encounters and interactions. Food, attractants, and/or refuse must be under a person’s immediate control. The person must be physically present within 100 feet, in plain sight, and can immediately attend to and store such items properly. The order was issued to provide for visitor safety and the conservation of bears.
Bears are opportunists by nature. They feed on whatever is readily available in the wild, from berries to insects. Bears have a remarkable sense of smell that can lead them to unnatural foods. Garbage and food odors attract bears to residential areas, dumpsites, campsites, and picnic areas. Once a bear develops a pattern of relying on human food sources it begins to lose its fear of people and may become aggressive. This behavior creates safety concerns for humans and can also be fatal for the bear. Bears that frequent inhabited areas may become an easy target for illegal hunting, and could be accidentally killed by an automobile, or may suffer from ingesting toxic material. Close encounters between humans and bears usually spell trouble.
The following steps may be helpful if you encounter a black bear.
- If you see a bear in the distance, make a wide detour or slowly leave the area.
- Always properly possess and store food and other attractants.
- Never feed or toss food to a bear.
- Store food or other attractants, such as toothpaste, in a closed hard top vehicle, a bear proof storage container, or suspend at least 12 feet off the ground and six feet from limbs.
- Never approach bears – they are wild animals. If a bear changes its natural behavior because of your presence, you are too close.
- Give a bear plenty of room to pass, and it usually will.
If a bear approaches you:
- Don’t run or turn away.
- Back away slowly.
- Face the bear, but don’t look directly into its eyes.
- Keep it in sight.
- Make yourself look bigger by waving your arms and yelling.
- Make lots of noise and stomp your feet.
If you are on a picnic or camping trip:
- Never leave food or trash unattended.
- Never cook or store food in or near your tent.
- Keep a clean site by properly disposing of garbage including fruit rinds and cores, empty cans or jars, and aluminum foil used for grilling or cooking.
- Pick up all food scraps around your site.
- Wipe down tabletops after each use and before vacating your site.
- If a bear approaches your site, pack up your food and trash. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, or by banging pans together. If the bear is persistent, move away slowly to your vehicle or other secure area.
- Keep children close at hand.
- Keep pets properly confined to a leash or in a vehicle or camper.
Respect the bear’s natural habitat, and they will respect your choice to play in it.
Have a safe and fun summer and always be bear wise.