Bear encounters prompt rangers to issue warnings in WNC

(Photo credit: WLOS)

Every spring, black bears get very active looking for food. There have already been encounters with hikers and campers in the Western North Carolina mountains.

That's prompting rangers to post warnings in specific areas like the Panthertown trail in Nantahala National Forest in Jackson County, where they say bears have actually taken food away from hikers and campers. No one's been hurt. But they say a tent was shredded.

Rangers say bears are opportunistic this time of year, looking for food, often from hikers and campers. At the Panthertown shelter, they had to take action.

“They shooed them off. And we've heard that they sprayed pepper spray and throwing stones at them and yelled and the bears would slowly turn around and leave,” says Bo Wood, of the U.S. Forest Service.

Wood says because of frequent sightings, the U.S. Forest Service is recommending no camping in Panthertown until June 1.

“If we keep providing food for them or the smell, they're going to stay around. But, if we can stop camping for a little while, then maybe they'll move on,” he says.

If you carry food in areas like these, here's some advice:

“Have scent proof containers to put your food in. And if you don't have that you're going to hang the food in a bag,” Wood says.

Items like toothpaste and lip balm have scents, too.

“You want to hang it about 150 feet away from where you camp and about 20-25 feet in the air,” Wood says.

If a bear does threaten you, Wood says, “Make a lot of noise, wave your hands in the air and move slowly. If you can, get to your vehicle or get to a building.”

It's still early in the season, and rangers say once that food becomes more abundant in the forest, the bears will become less aggressive.

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