CLEVELAND, Tenn. (WATE) — Increasing reports of bear activity in the northern portion of the Cherokee National Forest have prompted U.S. Forest Service officials to alert visitors to take proper care of their food and trash.

A news release from the agency states that hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail and in certain campgrounds have reported bear encounters; the wild animals are seeking food and approaching humans. It is illegal to feed bears or improperly store food or trash, the news release adds.

“Unfortunately, many people leave food out in the open or do not dispose of waste properly teaching bears to associate humans with food,” Mary Miller, Fire and Natural Resources Staff Officer, said. “These actions become the source of most bear and human problems.”

Black bears are opportunists by nature, according to the Forest Service and bear experts, feeding on whatever is readily available in the wild, from berries to insects. They have a remarkable sense of smell that can lead them to other, unnatural foods like garbage and human food.

“Once a bear develops a pattern of relying on human food sources it begins to lose its fear of people and may become aggressive,” Forest Service officials said. “This behavior creates safety concerns for humans and can also be fatal for the bear.”

Bears that frequent inhabited areas may become an easy target for illegal hunting, may be accidentally killed by an automobile, or may suffer from ingesting toxic material.

Here’s what humans can do to help protect bears and reduce encounters. Some safety tips include: 

  • Avoiding walking, hiking, jogging, or cycling alone.
  • Store food or other attractants, such as toothpaste, in a closed hard top vehicle, a bear-proof storage container or suspend at least 12 feet off the ground and six feet from limbs.
  • Make noise so bears know you are in the area.
  • Carry bear spray and know how to properly use it.
  • If you encounter a bear, don’t run. Back away slowly while making noise and do not turn your back on the bear.
  • In the unlikely case you are attacked or encounter a black bear, fight back.
  • If a bear approaches your site, pack up your food and trash. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, or by banging pans together. If the bear is persistent, move away slowly to your vehicle or other secure area.

People are asked to report any future bear sightings by contacting the Cherokee National Forest Supervisor’s Office at (423) 476-9700.

People are also asked not remove any bear activity signage for the safety and awareness of fellow visitors. For more information on outdoor black bear basics visit