US Forest Service Issues Warning About Trend of Black Bears Stealing Hiker’s Backpacks

by Emily Morgan

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it seems like hikers and campers need to be extra vigilant on their outings this summer. The U.S. Forest Service is wanting hikers and campers to be extra careful when visiting a national forest after several black bears stole backpacks and food in a North Carolina forest.

On Friday, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it received “reports of increased bear encounters” on four Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness trails inside the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The areas in the park include Haoe Lead Trail, Stratton Bald Trail, Hangover Lead Trail, and Hangover Trail.

The service adds that as people seek out outdoor activities, black bears in the area look for food carried by visitors. “Encounters include bears stealing food and backpacks,” the North Carolina arm of the Forest Service wrote via Facebook.

“The bears will often stay in the area of the incident for multiple hours, possibly days, depending on availability of food sources. This time of the year black bears are opportunistically looking for food that campers and trail users bring on their trips.”

Forest Service on Run-Ins with Black Bears: ‘Act Aggressively’

The PSA comes days after “aggressive bear activity” led the agency to close an area of the Appalachian Trail to campers. However, the agency added that hiking is still allowed in the area. 

The agency urges visitors not to leave food unattended and should store food in bear-proof containers. The Forest Service also recommends several tips to keep you from having a run-in with a bear. 

For instance, the agency recommends those camping not to leave any food in a tent. They also advise you to store any food and scented items such as toothpaste in a bear-proof container. 

Moreso, they add that you should clean up any food or trash in the areas of your campsite. If you’re with your pets, they also say to keep them on a leash. But most importantly, the agency wants visitors to remember not to leave food unattended. 

Currently, the North Carolina parks service has not reported any bear-related injuries in the state’s parks. The agency stated that if you’re attacked by a black bear, you should fight back. “Act aggressively and intimidate the bear by yelling and waving your arms,” the Forest Service said in a release. “Playing dead is not appropriate.”

Over the last two decades, black bears have killed twenty-five people across North America. That works out to 1.25 fatal attacks per year.