Food and Refuse Storage Requirements Implemented in Cherokee National Forest

Friday, December 15, 2017

USDA Forest Service officials have implemented a Forest Order for the entire Cherokee National Forest to minimize black bear-human encounters and interactions. The order prohibits possessing or leaving food, bear attractant, or refuse unless it is possessed properly or stored properly. The Order was issued to provide for visitor safety and the conservation of bears. For full news release click here.

In 2007 a similar Forest Order was implemented for the Tellico Ranger District in Monroe County. The result has been a reduction in the number of reported encounters between humans and bears. The new Forest Order applies to the entire Cherokee National Forest, including the Tellico, Ocoee, Unaka and Watauga Ranger Districts.

Many people leave food out in the open or do not dispose of refuse properly. These actions become the source of most bear and human problems. Cherokee National Forest visitors are now required to store unattended food in bear-resistant containers, in a vehicle in solid non-pliable material or suspend food at least 12 feet off the ground.

The black bear symbolizes the wild qualities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Its recovery from greatly reduced numbers throughout the region to its present thriving population is a result of sound management of bears and their habitat. Yet, humans, who often times mean well, are impacting bears unnecessarily by improperly disposing of garbage and leaving food unattended or improperly stored.

Bears are opportunists by nature. They feed on whatever is readily available in the wild, from berries to insects. Bears have a remarkable sense of smell that can lead them to unnatural foods.

Garbage and food odors attract bears to residential areas, dump sites, campsites, and picnic areas.

Once a bear develops a pattern of relying on human food sources it begins to lose its fear of people and may become aggressive. This behavior creates safety concerns for humans and can be fatal for the bear. Bears that frequent inhabited areas may become an easy target for illegal hunting, may be accidentally killed by an automobile, or may suffer from ingesting toxic material. Close encounters between humans and bears usually spell trouble.

Mary Miller, Wildlife Biologist for the Cherokee National Forest said, “With the increasing potential for human and bear interaction and the success we’ve seen with food storage requirements in the Tellico Ranger District, we believe it necessary to implement this Forest Order for the entire Cherokee National Forest.

“Our intent is to address human safety concerns and to provide for the conservation of bears. Similar food storage requirements are already in place in other national forests and state and national parks. Managing the disposal of garbage and storage of food can really make a difference.”

Following are procedures that will help reduce the chances of a close encounter with a bear while on a picnic or camping trip:

Never leave food or trash unattended.

Never cook or store food in or near your tent.

Keep a clean site by properly disposing of garbage including fruit rinds and cores, empty cans or jars and aluminum foil used for grilling or cooking.

Pick up all food scraps around your site.

Wipe down tabletops after each use and before vacating your site.

NEVER feed a bear or other animals.

NEVER approach a bear.

If a bear approaches your site, pack up your food and trash. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, or by banging pans together. If the bear is persistent, move away slowly to your vehicle or other secure area.

Keep children close at hand.

Keep pets properly confined to a leash or in a vehicle or camper.

ALWAYS respect bears and admire them from a distance.

Definition of terms in the Cherokee National Forest Food Storage Order:

“Food” means any substance, which is not native to the immediate area, solid or liquid (excluding water, baled hay, or hay cubes without additives), which is or may be eaten or otherwise taken into the body to sustain health or life, provide energy, or promote growth of any person or animal.

“Bear attractant” means any substance having an odor that may attract bears including food, soft drinks, cooking grease, alcoholic beverages, canned foods, pet foods, processed livestock feed and grains, personal hygiene products, and empty food and beverage containers.

“Refuse” means any discarded material or solid waste.

“Possessed properly” means:

1.Possessed or attended by a person(s) who is under immediate control of food, attractant or refuse. The person(s) must be physically present within 100 feet and in plain sight and have the ability to immediately attend to and store such items properly.

“Stored properly” means:

1. Stored or disposed of in a bear-resistant container or trash receptacle which is a securable container constructed of solid non-pliable material capable of withstanding 200 foot-pounds of energy. When secured and under stress the container will not have any cracks, openings, or hinges that would allow a bear to gain entry by biting or pulling with its claws. Wood containers are not considered bear resistant unless they are reinforced with metal. Most coolers are not considered bear resistant, or

2. Stored in a closed hard top motor vehicle or travel trailer constructed of solid, non-pliable material that, when secured, will have no openings, hinges, lids, or coverings that would allow a bear to gain entry by breaking, bending, tearing, biting, or pulling with its claws (any windows in the vehicle must be closed), or

3. Suspended at least 12 feet off the ground and 6 feet from limbs, or

d. Stored within a hard-sided residence, building, or storage container subject to the terms and conditions of a special-use authorization or operating plan, or

e. Stored by other methods approved in a permit issued by the Forest Supervisor.


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