AT Hikers Now Required to Use Bear Containers, Bear Hangs in Most of Vermont

The Green Mountain National Forest, which includes an Appalachian Trail shelter where a bear was killed after raiding hikers’ food, is now requiring all food to be stored in bear-resistant containers or suspended from a tree 12 feet from the ground and at least six feet from the tree.

The order, announced Wednesday, July 24, and also requires hikers to carry out all food trash.

The order covers the  Appalachian Trail from the Massachusetts-Vermont border to Maine Junction, where the AT splits from the Long Trail on its way to New Hampshire and Maine. The Long Trail is mostly on GMNF land from the Massachusetts border to Appalachian Gap at Route 17.

The Green Mountain Club, which maintains the Appalachian and Long trails in Vermont, said Ursacks are acceptable, but could become unacceptable if the GMNF finds issues with them. The club recommends that an Ursack be used  with the odor-proof OPsacks.

The move comes nearly two weeks after Vermont game wardens killed a bear that aggressively sought hikers’ food at Goddard Shelter, a heavily used camping area on the Appalachian and Long trails in Southern Vermont. The shelter was briefly closed.

The GMC said on its Facebook page that a bear looking for food tore apart the shelter privy, took two backpacks from hikers, and destroyed two tents.

The club said earlier efforts to prevent bear encounters, including installing a bear box and removing trash near the shelter, did not work.

The Bennington Banner reported that the wardens who went to the shelter felt they had no choice but to kill the bear on July 12.

“The bear was showing no fear of humans at this point,” Lt. Dennis Amsden, a game warden in the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, told the Banner. “Human safety was now at risk, so we felt it was necessary to put the bear down.”

Trek blogger Ruth “Chocoholic” Morley was at the shelter during one of the bear encounters, and wrote about it on her blog on Tuesday, July 9.

“There was a good crowd staying in the shelter and camping on the grounds, despite the warnings online about frequent bear presence. Yep, here came one around 7 p.m., within eight feet of the porch of the shelter!

Photo by Ruth Morley.

“Previous campers had lined up over 40 rocks along the walls of the shelter and on the shelf intended for food prep.

“When Bruno just kept advancing and didn’t run from our shouting, folks began throwing the rocks right at him. One good hit finally got him to head away, but not far. The privy was his next potential food mart. After tearing up the plastic-covered bale of sawdust outside the privy (used to help activate the composting toilet), he ripped off the simple little lock on the door and wreaked havoc on the interior of the outhouse. Another bale of sawdust was ripped into and the toilet itself pulled out of the floor. I have heard of some campers putting food waste in the pit, not knowing this was Bruno’s secret deli. I managed to get these photos by hiding under a nearby bush and hoping for the best. Don’t do this at home, kids.

Photo by Ruth Morley.

“With a lack of a good snack, he finally sauntered away, but you can bet we were ready to get out of there quickly in the morning, the time frame when he had accosted the last group there. We heard that they had to grab their packs and run down the trail with their breakfasts in their hands.”

The GMC said bear encounters at shelters and campsites have increased this year, with the bears seeming to lose their fear of humans.

“This year we have had bear problems at Kid Gore, Goddard, and Stratton Pond Shelters,” the club said on its website. “The bears at these locations did not react or show fear when yelled at or when stones were thrown in an attempt to scare them off. They got into several hikers’ food supplies, ripped apart a privy that had a moldy loaf of bread thrown in it, and sniffed into a shelter one night—leaving only after a startled hiker smacked the bear in the head with a trekking pole.”

Bear boxes have been installed at Seth Warner, Goddard, Kid Gore, Story Spring, Stratton Pond, and Stony Brook shelters on the AT/LT, along with boxes at Montclair Glen Lodge, Hump Brook Tenting Area, and Bamforth Ridge Shelter on the Long Trail north of the trail’s split from the AT at Maine Junction.

The club also recommends that hikers remove mouse hangers—inverted cans hung from strings—at shelters. Usually effective at deterring mice, the hangers are attracting bears to shelters, the GMC said.

Encounters with bears seeking food are not new on the Appalachian Trail, or on other hiking trails in the US. Shelters have been closed and camping restricted on the AT in recent years because of bear encounters. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy requests hikers to report bear encounters here.

The ATC also posts reports of bear encounters.

The ATC recommends that hikers use a bear canister on the AT, or hang their food using the Pacific Crest Trail method. Food should be hung 12 feet from the ground and six feet from the overhanging limb and trunk.

Bear canisters are required on parts of the PCT. The Pacific Crest Trail Association says the bear population in California has increased from 10,000 in the 1980s to around 35,000 now, and that the bears’ range has expanded to areas where they weren’t previously seen.

Feature photo provided by Ruth Morley.

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Comments 26

  • Ruth Morley : Jul 13th

    I’m very sad that it came to this conclusion. I feel honored whenever I have the opportunity to see a bear in its natural habitat, but in the end, it was backpackers’ food that was his downfall.

    I agree with the recommendation for using bear canisters. I’ve used one the past two years and feel great food security.

  • Kathryn : Jul 13th

    Why didn’t they relocate the bear to a sanctuary instead of killing it?!
    It’s the human who is trespassing, not the bear. We go on it’s land and demand that it show fear of us, and leave us perfectly alone.
    The whole thing makes no sense.

    It didn’t have to die.

    • Dan : Jul 14th

      Once they lose their natural fear of humans, they will approach and attack to get the food. There is no safe place to relocate them, it is only a matter of time until someone gets mauled. The population is large enough that black bears are legally hunted, it would most likely have been easily taken.

      • FM : Aug 10th

        I agree. No safe place in the wild to put them. The sanctuary of a zoo or fenced farm might be better as long as it is kept well fed, but that might come with its own set of problems.

        As for the other comment, yes, human populations have encroached on bear territory and it’s a crying shame. But I would disagree that the solution to this unfortunate crime against nature is to continue subjecting people to a randomized death penalty for it.

    • Chris : Jul 14th

      Similar to what the white man did to the native Americans, some things never change ?

      • FM : Aug 10th

        Welcome to Happiness (2105) might address this obvious crime asking if it is preferable to change history and prevent the United States from forming in its power, allowing Hitler to exterminate the residual 3 million remaining Jews and enslave all of Europe under his narcissistic, racist, and violently psychopathic tyranny.

      • oi : Jan 30th

        Spaniards aren’t white

    • mike : Jul 16th

      Humans have a right to hike and be safe. Why do people assume we are trespassing on the habitat of other species?

    • Wendy King : Jul 17th

      You didn’t have to kill the bear. People are trespassers. You could have darted it and relocated it far away in the Canadian wilderness or in the Pacific northwest somewhere.

      • Ben : Aug 6th

        You can keep yo bears, we have plenty over here in Canada 😉

    • Vincent Meola : Mar 3rd

      Way too many people and disappearing habitat are recipes for disasters like this. I live in Bergen county New Jersey I have friends walk the dog in the morning to find 12 point bucks in their backyards,on the cul-de-sacs.
      No I’m talking Hillsdale New Jersey. Cliffside Park New Jersey we have coyotes. 30,40 years ago this was unheard of,we just can’t seem to see the forest for the trees.

  • Ruth Anne Collins : Jul 14th

    I’m familiar with Goddard Shelter and have camped there. Sure, there were bear boxes there and at other shelters along my trek. However, many were locked! Yes, the ones at Goddard were locked at the beginning of August last summer. My understanding is that the trail crew were using them for tool storage. Therefore, they were not available for hiker use. Personally, I have been hiking with a bear canister the past two seasons when I can get out there to backpack, and in spite of the weight and bulk of it, finding it easier than a bear bag for me. I also use the bear boxes when they are available. I am saddened that the bear was enticed to be a nuisance. I find it insane that there are locked bear boxes along the trails. What is the point of the expense and pointing fingers at hikers if the club is going to put locks on them to keep the humans out?

    • Alexia : Aug 7th

      I stayed at Goddard shelter in June and there was a locked tool box; no bear box anywhere. Tons of hikers since the long trail and AT intersected and lots of LT hikers were starting. When I first saw an article stating there are food boxes to use I was confused as this was not the case. The caretaker at Peru Peak shelter also told the very full shelter of occupants that it is unnecessary to bear hang in Vermont. He claimed since they are hunted and afraid of humans, it is only recommended to critter hang unless there’s a bear box. Seems incorrect on all accounts.

  • Woody Hester : Jul 14th

    It’s always sad when an animal has to be destroyed, but when one loses its fear of humans and is as aggressive as this one was, it just has to be. There is no safe place to relocate it and the only other option is to close the trail and nearby shelters to humans indefinitely. Certainly not an option AT hikers would support. As for bear canisters, I was opposed to them for years, but am now a convert. I got a bigger pack and now use a BV 450. It’s actually a lot more convenient than doing a PCT bear hang every night, when I’m tired. Also easy to pack up in the morning. I thought I’d never say it, but I think if everyone used them everywhere, the bear problem would eventually go away….or at least improve a LOT.

  • Mark Stanavage : Jul 14th

    I despise the weight and size of my bear canister, but stories like this make the effort worth it. For the record, I suck at hanging bear bags and there never seems to be a tree just right for the job.

  • Donnie Brasco : Jul 19th

    The AT needs to institute bear resistant containers including the URSACK. The ursack doesn’t weigh that much and is a better choice than a can because it’s stationary when tied properly. A bear can is able to be rolled away by a bear if you’re unable to wedge it under something.

    • FM : Aug 10th

      I can see the fastpackers now trying for the AT FKT with a cannister on their back.

      • Mattrules : Nov 8th

        Ha their packs are too small they’ll have hold it in their arms?

  • Tams : Jul 23rd

    Up in The Bob they fire rubber bullets to teach the bears to be afraid of humans because carcasses ‘awaiting pickup’ in hunting season had become an easy dinner. It seems to be working ok there and is maybe something worth trying in other spots too.

    We carry bear canisters where they aren’t ‘required’ because they keep all the critters out of my nosh, and I have a chair. I am very protective of my dinner!

    Ultimately it is up to us to enjoy our wild places and keep them wild. All rights have responsibilities and we need to do better as a hiking community.

    • Redirect : Aug 6th

      Vert well said!

    • FM : Aug 10th

      As a frequent AT hiker, I would love to participate in this experiment! If it doesn’t work out and I get mauled, do you think someone shooting rubber bullets at you might be a reasonable lesson to teach you to fear making potentially fatal recommendations? ; ) (I’m being facetious–“treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor”) .

  • Perry : Jul 25th

    Is there a list of approved bear canisters for the AT sections that require them?

  • Sam : Jul 25th

    Blame your popular contributor Andrew skurka for telling people it’s ok to sleep with their food.

  • Smiles : Aug 8th

    We have hiked everywhere, both carrying bear containers. Inside the bear containers we use, every meal is packed in sent-controlled bags. The containers are bulky and heavy, but we’ve chosen to heed the warning of veteran hikers, AT Guide, Trek, and more: rather be safe than sorry. We would also cook away from tent sites with the wind blowing opposite, no matter the weather, because of others’ warnings. It’s such a shame a bear had become accustomed to getting human food, because of those not following simple guidelines, and it had to be put down. I’m glad no one was hurt from the bear, but it seems to be a popular trend. There are hikers that leave food trash, cook in/beside their tents, and etc, that are helping foster these bad bear habits. It’s a real shame that others’ carelessness and carefreeness are ruining it for other hikers and for the wildlife. Why can’t everyone be paranoid doofuses like us?! lol ;P

    • FM : Aug 10th

      Handling food puts it on everything you touch.

      Be afraid…be very afraid! ; )


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