Bold Black Bears Prompt Food Storage Rule Proposal

Aug 15, 2018

An increase in bear encounters has prompted  the U.S. Forest Service to consider clamping down on food storage rules for campers in parts of Western North Carolina. BPR's Helen Chickering has details. 

Hanging food from a tree is apparently no longer enough to keep away the black bears that live around two popular Western North Carolina camping spots Panthertown Valley, just outside of Cashiers in Jackson County and the portion of the Appalachian Trail that travels through North Carolina

“They have just learned that it’s real easy to climb a tree and hold a backpack down,” says Nantahala District Wildlife Biologist Johnny Wills, who says that scene is happening more often in the two areas. Wills says once a bear connects with a food source it’s a hard habit to break, which is why the Forest Service is proposing mandatory bear resistant containers for overnight campers in both areas.

“We make that mandatory and everybody complies with it, we stand a pret5ty good chance of more bears giving up and going about their business, what they should be doing, a more natural behavior pattern. 

The US Forest Service is seeking input on a proposal to require bear resistant food containers for all overnight campers on the Appalachian Trail located on the National Forests in North Carolina and in Panthertown on the Nantahala Ranger District. The Appalachian Trail passes through the Appalachian, Nantahala, Cheoah, and Tusquitee Ranger Districts.

Comments can be emailed to or mailed to Johnny Wills, Nantahala RD Wildlife Biologist, Nantahala Ranger District, 90 Sloan Road, Franklin, NC 28734. (Deadline is September 19th, 2018)

Here’s more from the press release from the U.S. Forest Service

Asheville, NC, August 14, 2018 - Visitors to the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests have experienced an increasing number of encounters with black bears exhibiting bold behavior over food in the past few years.

Most encounters are at places where the public repeatedly camps in the general forest rather than at campgrounds that are equipped with bear-proof trash cans. Incidents include bears taking food and back packs, damaging tents, and staying near inhabited campsites for hours.

"Bears are very reluctant to give up an easy food source and they have not been discouraged by humans banging pots, blowing air horns, and yelling," said Nantahala District Wildlife Biologist Johnny Wills. "Using bear-resistant food containers is the surest way to deny bears access to human food."

The Forest Service has increased public awareness efforts by posting material at trail heads, on websites, and on social media in an effort to educate visitors on the importance of eliminating human behaviors that lead bears to see people as a source of food. However, potentially serious encounters by bears have continued to increase. Close interactions with bears must be reduced for the sake of the bears and for the safety of visitors.

Please, for bear's sake, be mindful of your sanitation and hygiene in the back country. Bears locate food sources by smell as well as sight. You can protect yourself and protect bears by storing trash and food in safe locations during your visit. Keep scented items in bear-proof canisters, inside trailers, and in the trunk of a vehicle. Do not leave food or coolers unattended. Never store scented items in your tent, including toothpaste, deodorant, beverages, or snacks. Pick up all garbage around your site, including inside fire rings, grills, and tables and properly store with your food or dispose in a bear-proof trash receptacle.

If a bear is observed nearby, pack up food and trash immediately and vacate the area. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts or making noise. If a bear approaches, do not run, but move away slowly and get into a vehicle or building. In the event of a bear attack, do not play dead. Try to fight back and act aggressively. Carrying EPA registered bear spray is another way to combat bear attacks.

Report bear encounters to your local ranger district office. For more information, see our website at