An ever-increasing black bear population has led to a food storage order for visitors to one of Kentucky’s most popular national forest systems.
Rangers with the Daniel Boone National forest — a 708,000-acre forest spread across 21 Kentucky counties, including Pulaski — on Friday issued food storage mandates in an effort to minimize black bear access to human food and garbage.
The order is applicable forest-wide.
“Our highest priority is public safety,” said Forest Supervisor Frank Beum in a press release. “Our visitors can help ensure their safety by not allowing bears to have access to human food or garbage.”
As per the food storage order, campers in developed sites must store food, garbage and other odorous items that may attract bears in a bear-resistant container, inside their vehicle, or in an enclosed hard-body trailer.
Back country campers must suspend food, garbage and odorous items at least 10 feet off the ground and four feet away from any tree or pole.
All food leftovers and trash must be properly disposed of in a bear-resistant trash receptacle or other container where provided by the Forest Service. The burning or burying of food trash is prohibited.
Odorous items that may attract bears include food, garbage, soap, toothpaste and other scented substances.
The black bear population in Kentucky — particularly in southeastern Kentucky — has increased since 14 female black bears were released into the Big South Fork area in 1996 and 1997. Black bear sightings have even increased in Pulaski County, notably in the eastern part of the county in areas off of Ky. 192 and Ky. 1003.
It is against the law to intentionally or unintentionally feed a bear, and close-encounters between bear and human led last summer to several Daniel Boone National Forest campsites being closed. Holly Bay Campground at Laurel River Lake was closed after a bear approached campers and raided a cooler for food. Great Meadows Campground in McCreary County was also closed after a bear approached visitors.
Biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources worked to capture and move the bears away from the campgrounds, and the biologists said a drought in the spring and summer of 2012 resulted in a loss of berry crops earlier than usual, leading many bears to seek sustenance at the campsites.
The public should report nuisance bears and any bear exhibiting aggressive behavior by calling 1-800-25-ALERT.