Archived Outdoors

Bear canisters required in Panthertown

Warren Bielenberg photo Warren Bielenberg photo

The U.S. Forest Service is now requiring anybody who stays overnight in Panthertown Valley to use a bear-resistant container or place odiferous items in one of three bear lockers installed in the popular backcountry area. More bear lockers will be installed in the future. 

“Bears are very reluctant to give up an easy food source and they have not been discouraged by humans yelling, banging pots or blowing air horns. Using a bear-resistant food container is the surest way to deny bears access to human food,” said Nantahala District Wildlife Biologist Johnny Wills. “Bear sightings are a thrilling part of a forest adventure, but healthy bear-human interactions require that people take care not to teach bears to associate people with food.”

All food, trash and scented items such as lotions, soap, deodorant and sunscreen must be stored in a locker or portable container on the list of bear-resistant products approved by the Interagency Grizzley Bear Committee, available at

According to a Forest Service press release, the canister requirement is due to continued food-related bear-human encounters in Panthertown Valley over the past several years. Most of those encounters occur at frequently used campsites in the forest rather than at campgrounds with bear-resistant trash cans. 

The Forest Service initially proposed the bear canister requirement in 2018, and a formal public comment process was conducted at that time. The proposal was then sent to the regional Forest Supervisor’s office for a final decision.

Friends of Panthertown Executive Director Jason Kimenker said that his organization has not received any reports of close bear encounters in Panthertown since December 2019, before the first bear storage lockers were installed in 2020. However, he said, Friends of Panthertown supported the rule in 2018 and has not changed its position. 

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“Conditions today are different from where they were a few years ago,” Kimenker said. “While there are more visitors coming to Panthertown, incidents of bear-human interactions or close encounters have dropped off significantly since the installation of food storage lockers and increase in public education efforts. We agreed with the USFS food storage proposal in 2018 when it was originally recommended, and we still feel the use of bear-resistant containers for food storage is an appropriate requirement for overnight camping in Panthertown, a bear sanctuary.”

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission voted this year to rename bear sanctuaries as “designated bear management units” and to start allowing bear hunts in Panthertown by permit, but the N.C. Rules Review Commission voted to delay implementation for legislative review. State legislators have until early June to introduce a bill counteracting the proposed rule. Friends of Panthertown has opposed the NCWRC proposal, while the Forest Service has supported it. 

Bears locate food by both smell and sight, so visitors should never leave food unattended or store scented items in a tent — including toothpaste, deodorant, beverages and snacks. It’s important to pick up all garbage at the campsite before leaving, including inside fire rings, grills and tables. 

Backcountry visitors who see a bear nearby should pack up food and trash immediately and leave the area. If necessary, try to scare the bear away with loud noise. If it approaches, move away slowly to reach a vehicle or a building, and in case of an attack, fight back and act aggressively rather than playing dead, or deploy bear spray. For more tips on how to prevent and respond to bear encounters, visit

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1 comment

  • Another important tip would be to deploy a .44 Magnum or 10mm handgun. Ofcourse your anti-gun Leftists wouldn't even dream of it.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Monday, 05/23/2022

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