A black bear on all four paws standing in a wooded area.

Black bears can be found throughout most of Georgia

Georgia is fortunate to have a healthy population of black bears. This incredible species may be found in the north Georgia mountains, in central Georgia along the Ocmulgee River, in and around the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia, and occasionally, anywhere in between. As your summer adventures take you exploring in the outdoors, be sure to become BearWise!

“Wild black bears are naturally fearful of humans and will go out of their way to avoid people, so please do your part to help keep bears wild,” says Adam Hammond, state bear biologist with Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division. “Check out BearWise.org to learn how to live responsibly with bears and to make the most of your time in the great outdoors this summer.”

Six outdoor bearWise basics:

  1. Stay alert and stay together: Pay attention to your surroundings and stay together. Walk, hike, jog, or cycle with others when possible. Keep kids within sight and close by. Leave earbuds at home and make noise periodically so bears can avoid you.
  2. Leave no trash or food scraps: Double bag your food when hiking and pack out all food and trash. Don’t burn food scraps or trash in your fire ring or grill. Leaving scraps, wrappers, or even “harmless” items like apple cores teaches bears to associate trails and campsites with food.
  3. Keep dogs leashed: Letting dogs chase or bark at bears is asking for trouble; don’t force a bear to defend itself. Keep your dogs leashed at all times or leave them at home.
  4. Camp safely: Set up camp away from dense cover and natural food sources. Cook as far from your tent as possible. Do not store food, trash, clothes worn when cooking, or toiletries in your tent. Store in approved bear-resistant containers OR out of sight in locked vehicle OR suspended at least 10 feet above the ground and 10 feet from any part of the tree. Local regulations vary.
  5. Know what to do if you see a black bear: If you see a bear before it notices you, don’t approach. Stand still, enjoy, then quietly move away. If a bear sees you, back away slowly. Never run; running may trigger a chase response. If a bear approaches, hold your ground, wave your arms and yell “Hey Bear” until it leaves. Stay with your group. If it keeps approaching, use bear spray. If a black bear makes contact with you, do NOT play dead; fight back aggressively.
  6. Carry bear spray and know how to use it: Bear spray is proven to be the easiest and most effective way to deter a bear that threatens you. It doesn’t work like bug repellent, so never spray your tent, campsite or belongings.

BearWise is an education program developed by state bear biologists, anchored by the website BearWise.org, that offers people specific, detailed, and high-quality information to help us live responsibly with bears and keep bears wild.

The black bear is a symbol of Georgia’s natural diversity as it is the only bear found in the state and is a conservation success story. Though now considered the most common bear in North America, the species was nearly eradicated from Georgia in the 1930s due to unregulated hunting, illegal harvest – including the killing of bears as “vermin,” and large-scale habitat loss. Sound wildlife management practices have restored Georgia’s black bears to a thriving population estimated at 4,100 bears statewide.

For additional information and further exploration of bear-related outdoor safety tips, visit BearWise.org.