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Posted: Saturday, February 8th 2014 at 12:06pm

Bear, human 'conflicts' down along Appalachian Trail

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GAINESVILLE - Hikers along a section of the Appalachian Trail are experiencing fewer black bear conflicts along a five-mile section of trail from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap in the Chattahoochee National Forest. That's according to the U.S. Forest Service and follows implementation of a seasonal requirement for all overnight campers to carry bear-resistant canisters to contain personal garbage, toiletries and foods. The requirement goes into effect again this year beginning March 1 and ends June 1.

The regulation was first issued in 2012 by the Forest Service as an alternative to closing the area along the Appalachian Trail in the Blood Mountain Wilderness to camping. In previous years, concerns about hiker safety after repeated bear conflicts required temporary, seasonal camping closures for the area. Now, hikers have the option of camping in the area year-round as long as they carry and use a bear-resistant canister in the springtime.

We took this measure to protect hikers and make our campsites less alluring to the bears that live here, said Blue Ridge District Ranger Andy Baker.  So far, we are seeing fewer bear-hiker interactions, and that s a good thing for both the hikers and the bears.

Bear-resistant canisters trap odors inside, eliminating the lure of food, and they are designed to be tamper-resistant against extreme force. The regulation requires that the canisters used must be solid and non-pliable. These canisters can be purchased or rented at most retail stores and online sellers that stock camping gear.

Any bear that associates people with food is a dangerous bear because it s going to be aggressive, said Baker.  By removing the lure of foods and other odors, we stop giving bears a reason to approach a campsite.

The storage regulation is mandatory for all dispersed camping in the Blood Mountain Wilderness within a quarter mile of the trail from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap, which includes the Blood Mountain Shelter and Woods Hole Shelter. It also includes the dispersed camping areas within Jarrard Gap. Hikers who choose not to camp along this section of trail are not required to carry a canister.

Traditional food storage methods in the wilderness, such as hanging food bags between trees, are not allowed as a substitute for using a bear-resistant canister under this regulation. Although these methods are not are not as effective as bear-resistant canisters at preventing bears from retrieving food, the Forest Service does encourage this practice at other times and in other areas of the forest not covered by the canister requirement.

Forest officials say black bear encounters have increased significantly in recent years in the Blood Mountain Wilderness. Bears become more active as the seasons and weather change. They are particularly attracted to human food brought into wilderness in the early spring when natural food sources are not yet plentiful. This is also the peak season for northbound Appalachian Trail hikers to begin their journeys.

For more tips on how to protect yourself and also protect black bears when visiting the National Forest, visit the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests website or contact the Blue Ridge Ranger District Office at (706) 745-6928. A map of the area covered by the regulation is available online, at nearby trailheads, and at the District Office.

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