SOCIAL CIRCLE — Whether a summer camping trip or a stay at a cozy 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 1,200-1,500 black bears in North Georgia, 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 regarded 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 and available to bears or other wildlife. 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 if backcountry camping, inside a knapsack and hoisted out of reach of bears and other wildlife.
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.
In urban and suburban areas, garbage, birdseed, and pet food are the most common bear attractants. In addition to properly storing food and garbage, homeowners in known bear areas are advised to bring pet food indoors and to remove bird feeders during the spring and late summer.
"The best and most effective way to resolve human-bear conflicts is to remove the attractant," says Hammond. "In most cases, that simply means making garbage, birdseed, pet food and other non-natural food items inaccessible."
Though the American black bear 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 estimated between 2,300 and 2,500 bears statewide.
For more information regarding black bears, go to 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."