Campers could be required to use bear canisters in Pisgah, Nantahala national forests

U.S. Forest Service officials said they are looking to step up efforts to discourage bears from entering campsites to eat. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Bear encounters are increasing in the mountains. Our animal neighbors getting bolder ... even in the woods.

U.S. Forest Service officials said they are looking to step up efforts to discourage bears from entering campsites to eat.

Officials said public education just isn't enough and that with more and more contact with humans that has to change.

"Camped in this campground with my mom and daddy when I was a little boy," said Jim Hall, general manager of the Lake Powhatan Campground in Pisgah National Forest.

Hall takes care of 97 campsites, all the campers and tries to keep a certain critter away.

"You'll see here we've put bear-proof lids on and the chains on the dumpsters to keep the bears out," Hall said. "We're always worried about, you know, camper safety, for the kids, because kids don't, they think they're something to play with, see."

For Aiden Jacobson and his family, there was no playing around when they awakened Monday morning to see a bear at the back of their mini-van, trying to get the food stored inside.

"It was a scary experience. I didn't know that they had this much jaw power. It just cut through the whole thing," Jacobson said looking at the back of the vehicle.

U.S. Forest Service recreation staff officer Thomas Saylors said a proposed requirement for overnight campers in Pisgah and Nantahala national forests to use bear-resistant containers would be good for all involved.

"It's not just to help us but to help the bears," he said.

Hall also sees the proposal as a two-way street.

"We don't want to see the bear or the people, you know, get injured or lose their life," Hall said.

Saylors said the ongoing effort to educate and simply recommend these safety measures is not working, that bold behavior and the danger of more encounters between bears and people could lead to drastic measures.

"If this continues to be a problem, the alternatives are closing the campgrounds, closing the backcountry areas to overnight camping, and those are not things we want to do," Saylors said.

For now, signs are posted everywhere. Arriving visitors are warned to keep their campsites clean and secure.

The bear-proof container regulation would include the Appalachian Trail and Panthertown. But is just a proposal right now. The Forest Service is looking for public input.

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