ASHEVILLE, NC – The U.S. Forest Service is warning about an increase in bear sightings in Western North Carolina, saying they’ve been interacting with humans more and more over the past 5 years.
Officials believe the issue stems from bears smelling peoples food, then trying to take it.
“The education doesn’t seem to be working,” explained Thomas Saylors, a recreation staff officer for the U.S. Forest Service. “The bears are getting a taste for the food.”
Saylors said Wednesday he’s hoping to roll out a new policy to help stop the problem.
The proposed policy would require all campers in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests to have bear-resistant containers to block the smell of food.
“When they come around and get food, they get a reward, so where’s a risk there’s a reward… they will be back,” he said.
According to Saylors, in the Panthertown area the number of black bear incidents with campers in 2018 has already tripled, going from around 5 complaints a year of bears getting aggressive, to 15. That includes bears taking bags, tearing tents and harassing visitors.
But not all campers are on board with the proposed policy.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to have a bear-proof box to come camping, you just have to pick your food up at night,” said Robert Burnette, an avid camper in Western North Carolina.
Still, if human-bear encounters don’t ease up, Saylors told 7 News Wednesday that some campsites could be forced to close.
“Could possibly have to, especially if there’s an instance where someone is injured or harmed,” he said.
If a bear canister policy is implemented, the U.S. Forest Service plans for it to take effect in Spring of 2019 during the next camping season.