Photo: John Manuel\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe U.S. Forest Service suspended camping in the Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest last fall because of a series of bear encounters with backpackers. Campers reported multiple incidents of bears climbing trees to retrieve hung bear bags.\r\n\r\n\u201cI don\u2019t think we\u2019ve ever had to close camping in Shining Rock before,\u201d says Pisgah District ranger Derek Ibarguen. \u201cThere was one incident when the bear made contact with a tent. That\u2019s too close for comfort, so we decided to suspend camping until winter.\u201d\r\n\r\nSimilar bear encounters were reported all over the Southeast in 2012. Black bears tore apart properly hung bear bags last fall in Panthertown Valley, prompting the Nantahala National Forest to release a bear alert for the valley. Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed two backcountry camping areas because of bear activity. And in Georgia, increased bear activity in the Blood Mountain Wilderness has prompted a new U.S. Forest Service rule requiring approved bear-resistant storage containers for camping on a five-mile stretch of the A.T. through the Wilderness during the spring.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019re definitely seeing an upward trend in bear\/human encounters in the backcountry,\u201d says Mike Carraway, a biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Commission. \u201cWe have a healthy bear population in the mountains. At the same time, more people are recreating in those mountains, so bear interactions are inevitable.\u201d\r\n\r\nCarraway says that bears are both smart and creatures of habit. If they\u2019re rewarded by a certain behavior, like climbing trees to get hung food, they\u2019re likely to repeat that behavior.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn the past, we haven\u2019t had many problems with bears going after food in campsites or up trees, but we have more bears in the forest now and more people camping,\u201d Carraway says. \u201cSo we\u2019re seeing more bears climb trees after hung bags, and more bears entering campsites.\u201d\r\n\r\nSpring is typically the most active season for bears, as they forage for food after exiting their hibernation dens in March. But there\u2019s no reason for backpackers to fear the backcountry. Take the proper precautions to remove the allure from your campsite, and backpackers and black bears can coexist without incident.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe key to reducing your chances of seeing an unwelcome bear is proper food storage,\u201d says Steven Westcott, spokesperson for Pisgah National Forest. \u201cWe have bear encounters every year, but most cases are when food is left in the tents or near a cooking area.\u201d\r\n\r\nHere\u2019s a simple guide to creating a bear-proof campsite in the backcountry.\r\n\r\nThe golden rule: Don\u2019t carry anything with a scent into your tent with you: no candy bars, no toothpaste, no lip balm. Bears love lip balm.\r\n\r\nProperly hang your food bag: Finding the right tree is key. You need to be able to hang the bag 12 feet off the ground and at least three feet from the trunk, so the bear can\u2019t climb for it. The bag should also be 100 feet from your tent.\r\n\r\nCook somewhere else: Cooking at the fire ring beside your tent creates all kinds of tempting smells for black bears. Instead, consider cooking along the trail before you set up camp. At the very least, have a separate \u201ccook site\u201d 100 feet from your tent where you cook your meals. This will keep all alluring smells away from your tent.\r\n\r\nThree sites: If you\u2019re taking all of the precautions, your campsite should actually be a collection of three sites (your tent, your cook site, and your food bag) all spaced at least 100 feet apart.\r\nHang it or Can it?\r\nMany Western parks and forests require backpackers to store all of their food in an approved bear canister\u2014hard plastic barrels that are air tight and stored a safe distance from the campsite. The Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia has issued this requirement for a section of the A.T. that has a heavy bear population. Should all backpackers switch to bear canisters instead of hanging their bags?\r\n\r\n\u201cIt might be appropriate for the forest service to require bear canisters in certain sections of the forest at certain times of the year,\u201d says Mike Carraway. \u201cBut there\u2019s no reason for a forest-wide rule requiring canisters at all times.\u201d\r\n\r\nStill, the bear can might be worth your consideration. Canisters have proven to be more \u201cbear proof\u201d than hanging bags. The downside?\u00a0 They\u2019re an added cost many backpackers don\u2019t want to pony up, and they add a couple of pounds to your pack.