The Red River Gorge Today, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky
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Living with Black Bears

With the growing population of black bears in the Red River Gorge over recent years comes a growing need for us to learn how to safely share the forest with them. Although there are very few bear attacks on record, reports of mauling and mortalities are a reality, and that is why bear safety education is important for all of us.

By nature, bears are afraid of humans. But unfortunately for both them and us, bears can become habituated to human food sources by our carelessness with our food and trash. The Red River Gorge is densely covered with trash-laden fire rings, seemingly convenient garbage pits for those who are too lazy to pack out their own garbage, and this problem goes beyond just being an eyesore.

When we give bears access to our garbage, even burnt garbage, they can begin to associate the scent of humans with the reward of food, and can lose their natural fear of us, which is bad news for everyone.

After a hiker was mauled by a bear off of Tunnel Ridge Road in 2010, the Forest Service issued a food storage order for the Red River Gorge that is now in effect for the entire Daniel Boone National Forest. Following that order is an important step toward everyone's safety. So what else can we do? Here are some bear-safe suggestions:

Avoid camping and hiking alone in the backcountry.
Wear bells or otherwise make noise to avoid surprising a bear.
Do not hike after dark.
Carry EPA registered bear pepper spray.
Never store food, soap, toothpaste, or other bear attractants inside of a tent.
Comply with the Food Storage Order in effect for the DBNF.
Keep your dog on a leash. Dogs will confront bears and may get seriously injured.

If a bear is seen nearby:

Pack up your food and trash immediately and vacate the area as quickly as you can.
Do not feed or toss food to a bear.
Keep children close at hand. Stay in a group.
Do not try to take pictures of the bear.
If a bear changes its natural behavior (feeding, foraging, or movement) because of your presence, you are too close and the bear is going to respond.

If a bear approaches you:

Playing dead is not appropriate. Attempt to scare the bear away with loud shouts, banging pans together, or throwing rocks and sticks at it.
Never run away from a bear - back away slowly and make lots of noise.
A bear can run up to 30 mph, so again, do not run. Not only is running futile, it will excite the bear's response.
In the extreme case that you are attacked by a black bear, try to fight back by using any object available. Act aggressively and intimidate the bear by yelling and waving your arms.

Perhaps the easiest and most pleasent way to stay bear safe is to hike or camp with a group of friends. Groups of people tend to make noise with conversation, and if a bear hears you coming, it will normally try to distance itself from you before you even see it. Bears have never been know to attack a group of three or more people.