North Carolina black bears swiping hikers’ backpacks, US Forest Service warns

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Hikers and campers are being warned to take precautions when visiting a national forest in North Carolina after a string of incidents of bears stealing backpacks and food.

The U.S. Forest Service said in a statement Friday that it has received “reports of increased bear encounters” on four Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness trails inside the Nantahala National Forest. The spots include Haoe Lead Trail, Stratton Bald Trail, Hangover Lead Trail and Hangover Trail.

Black bears look for food that trail users bring with them this time of year.

“Encounters include bears stealing food and backpacks,” the North Carolina arm of the Forest Service wrote on 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.”

The latest warnings came days after “aggressive bear activity” led the agency to close an area of the Appalachian Trail to camping in Tennessee. Hiking is still allowed.

Visitors shouldn’t leave food unattended and should store it in bear-proof containers, the Forest Service advised.

The Forest Service recommends five tips to prevent run-ins with bears:

  • Do not store food in tents.
  • Properly store food and scented items like toothpaste by using a bear-proof container.
  • Clean up food or garbage around areas of your campsite.
  • Do not leave food unattended.
  • Keep your dog on a leash in areas where bears are reported.

Black bears look for food that trail users bring with them this time of year.

Although no injuries have been reported in the North Carolina wilderness, the agency said people should try to fight back with any available object if attacked by a black bear.

“Act aggressively and intimidate the bear by yelling and waving your arms,” the Forest Service said. “Playing dead is not appropriate.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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