This summer’s early drought has prompted the London Ranger District in the Daniel Boone National Forest, including all campgrounds around Laurel River Lake, to implement a mandatory food storage order in an effort to prevent possible interactions between bears and visitors.
The drought has impacted the availability of black bears’ natural foods, and as those foods have diminished, bear sighting reports have increased considerably in the London Ranger District.
Forest visitors must store food inside a hardtop vehicle or bear-resistant container when not cooking or eating. Burning or burying food, trash or any other bear attractant is prohibited.
Backcountry campers must suspend food and garbage at least 10 feet off the ground and four feet out from any tree or pole.
“In most areas of eastern Kentucky, this summer’s wild berry crop disappeared quickly,” said Steven Dobey, bear biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.”This is a very important food source for this time of year and with it gone, bears are roaming extensively in search of alternate foods.”
July is also the end of the breeding season for bears so, in conjunction with the shortage of natural foods, the natural tendency for male bears to travel is at a peak right now. Ultimately, this creates a heightened potential for human-bear interactions, and often in places typically not frequented by bears.
“Right now, residents living or recreating in bear country need to be particularly mindful of food and garbage containment,” said Dobey. “The most effective resolution to almost all bear issues is also the simplest; eliminate access to human-related food.”
Mandatory food storage orders are not new for the Daniel Boone National Forest. Existing food storage orders remain in effect for the Stearns Ranger District and the Red River Gorge. The orders define a bear attractant as any substance having an odor that may attract bears. Food, cooking grease, toothpaste, soap and garbage are considered attractants.
About 70 percent of all nuisance complaints in Kentucky are directly related to bears getting into somebody’s garbage. After repeated access to human-related food or garbage, bears begin to lose their natural fear of people. Ultimately, it is that change in behavior that can cause nuisance problems in neighborhoods, towns, and backcountry areas. Kentucky law makes it illegal to feed bears intentionally or unintentionally.
“Human-bear interactions are by no means restricted to metropolitan areas,” explains Dobey. “Access to garbage or food in more remote areas causes problems every year, particularly in campgrounds.” The resolution is the same, however, and eliminating access to food is the key.
“The most recent actions by the Daniel Boone National Forest illustrate the proactive nature of bear management,” said Dobey. “Ultimately, food storage restrictions benefit the well being of people as much as bears.”
If camping, picnicking, hiking or fishing, food should be stored in the trunk when vehicles are left unattended.
In residential areas, don’t leave garbage outside overnight if at all possible. Instead, wait until the morning of the pick-up to put it outside. Food scraps, pet food, even seed in bird feeders, can attract hungry bears looking for an easy meal. Also avoid throwing food scraps outside to feed wildlife or pets as these are often overlooked lures for black bears.
“Just 10 years ago it was a rarity to even see a black bear in Kentucky,” said Dobey. “Today, there is potential for regular sightings in any county east of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Contrary to popular belief, bears were not stocked in eastern Kentucky. Their natural return is a true wildlife success story and a testament to the overall health of Kentucky’s forests.”
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