Beginning March 1, anyone camping overnight along the five miles of Appalachian Trail from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap on the Chattahoochee National Forests must bring a bear-resistant container to contain personal garbage, toiletries and foods. The new regulation was issued by the USDA Forest Service in response to public safety concerns and repeated bear-human conflicts in the region.
Bear-resistant containers trap odors inside, eliminating the lure of food, and they are designed to be tamper-resistant against extreme force. These containers can be purchased at most retail stores and online sellers that stock camping gear.
“We’re taking this measure to protect campers and make our campsites less alluring to the bears that live here,” Blue Ridge District Ranger Andy Baker said.
The storage regulation is mandatory for all dispersed camping in Blood Mountain Wilderness Area within a quarter mile of the trail, as well as camping at Blood Mountain Shelter and Woods Hole Shelter. It is a seasonal requirement-only from March 1 through June 1.
Forest officials said black bear encounters have increased significantly in recent years in the Blood Mountain Wilderness Area. 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.
“Any bear that associates people with food is a dangerous bear because it’s going to be aggressive,” Baker said. “By removing the lure of foods and other odors, we stop giving bears a reason to approach a campsite.”
Traditional food storage methods in the wilderness, such as “bear-bagging,” or hanging food bags between trees, will not be allowed. These methods are not always effective at preventing bears from retrieving food.
This seasonal camping restriction was developed in consultation with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division.
Blood Mountain was designated as a Wilderness Area by Congress in 1991. Wilderness designation means the land has been set aside for permanent protection because of its intact natural ecosystems. The Forest Service manages it in a way that allows many recreational activities, but also provides some restrictions to protect the area in its natural state. Wilderness visitors are asked to practice the Leave No Trace ethic, a set of guidelines for minimizing their impacts including planning ahead, staying on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly, leaving what they find and respecting wildlife and other visitors.
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 at www.fs.usda.gov/conf or contact the Blue Ridge Ranger District Office at (706) 745-6928. Maps are also available.