Bears are apparently tracking hikers in Nantahala National Forest and stealing their backpacks.
No injuries have been reported, but the U.S. Forest Service issued a warning Friday for hikers to take precautions when visiting the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness inside the national forest. The area is about 110 miles southwest of downtown Asheville.
The forest service says it has received “reports of increased bear encounters” at four spots: Haoe Lead Trail TR53, Stratton Bald Trail TR54, Hangover Lead Trail TR56 and Hangover Trail TR56A.
“Encounters include bears stealing food and backpacks,” the forest service said.
“The bears will often stay in the area of the incident for multiple hours, possibly days, depending on availability of food sources. This time of the year black bears are opportunistically looking for food that campers and trail users bring on their trips.”
The warning comes just days after aggressive bears forced authorities to close part of the Appalachian Trail to camping in Tennessee, officials said. Hiking is still allowed.
“The Appalachian Trail between Double Springs Shelter and the intersection with Backbone Rock Side Trail (miles 451 through 464) will be closed to camping until further notice,” the US Forest Service said last week.
“Though bears are naturally afraid of humans, bears habituated to human food can begin to associate human scents with the reward of food. Due to this, bears can become a threat to humans, property, and themselves.”
People who are confronted by bears should try and intimidate the animal by “yelling and waving your arms,” experts say, as well as “using any object available” to fight back.