Whether it is a “roughing it” summer tent camping trip or a comfy stay at a cabin in the woods, there’s always a possibility for a black bear sighting or encounter in North Georgia. With more than 75 established campgrounds and an estimated 5,100 black bears in the State, campers should always be aware and prepared for a black bear encounter. The key to preventing an unfavorable experience is to properly store food and garbage.
“Bears can become habituated to people when they are fed – whether intentional or not. When a bear knows it can get a ‘free meal,’ it will return again and again until eventually it loses its natural fear of humans. This is when the majority of human-bear conflicts occur and the bear is labeled a nuisance,” explains Adam Hammond, wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.
Proper food storage while camping means that no food, drinks, coolers or garbage should be left out in the open. Even non-food items with strong odors, such as toothpaste, deodorant and soap should be secured.
All food and scented items should be secured either inside a vehicle or cabin – not in a tent. If backcountry camping, place items inside a knapsack and hoist it out of reach of bears and other wildlife (at least 10 feet off the ground and 6 feet from tree trunk).
Disposal of items should be done in bear-proof containers, like ones recently placed at Wildcat Creek Campground in Northeast Georgia (U.S. Forest Service/Chattahoochee National Forest campground).
Bears in Georgia
Black bears commonly are found in three areas of the state - the north Georgia mountains, the Ocmulgee River drainage system in central Georgia and the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern part of the state. However, black bears can and do range over larger areas; especially in early spring and late summer, when natural food sources are scarce. Young male bears are also known to disperse in an effort to establish their own territory.
Though the American black bear (Ursus americanus) is now considered the most common bear in North America and the only native bear found in Georgia, at one point the species was nearly eradicated from the state due to poaching and habitat loss. Yet, because of sound wildlife management practices Georgia’s current black bear population is healthy and thriving and estimated at approximately 5,100 bears statewide.
For more information regarding black bears, visit www.georgiawildlife.com, contact a WRD Game Management office or call (770) 918-6416. The public also can visit their local library to check out a copy of an informational DVD entitled, “Where Bears Belong: Black Bears in Georgia.”
Editor’s Note: Photos of black bears or bear-proof containers available by contacting Melissa Cummings at 770.918.6795 or Melissa.firstname.lastname@example.org .