News & Updates

Leave No Trace Lessons From the Cocaine Bear

Chloe Lindahl - February 28, 2023

The outrageous comedy “Cocaine Bear “ directed by Elizabeth Banks debuted last week and the movie might just hold some Leave No Trace lessons along the way. The story loosely follows the true tale of a black bear who stumbled across a bag of cocaine in the Tennessee woods after drug smuggler Andrew Thompson jumped from a plane with a failed parachute and $14 million worth of drugs. Thompson and the bear both passed away from the incidents but the story remains legend and the movie ponders the question, what would have happened if the bear lived? 

What follows is a series of wild somewhat laughable events with a coked out black bear terrorizing rangers, visitors and children alike amidst the animal’s drug fueled frenzy. While these circumstances remain highly unusual, especially given black bears’ penchant to avoid humans, there have been stories throughout the years of these curious animals breaking away with food and paraphernalia they shouldn’t get their hands on. 

Bears have an incredible sense of smell and often look for high calorie meals as the winter approaches. They’ve been known to dumpster dive, eat off outdoor grills and even break into houses to gain access to more goods. There have even been reported cases of bears running off with coolers of beers or a stash of marijuana edibles. 

While these stories hold an amusing edge, the reality is the more human to bear interactions a bear has, the more likely the bear is to be relocated or worse, euthanized. As the saying goes “a fed bear is a dead bear” so whenever you’re out hiking, camping or even throwing out your garbage, Leave No Trace has some tips on ways to secure your food and waste for the safety of yourself and the wildlife around you.

Whenever you’re going on a long hike or an overnight trip in the woods, it’s always advised to bring a bear vault with you. The bear vault is a mid-size cylindrical container that can be used to store all smellable items and food that might attract a bear. The lid is specifically designed to make it difficult for creatures without opposable thumbs to open it. When resting or sleeping, take the bear vault 70 large steps away from camp and find a hiding place for it. For more information on a bear vault and how to use one, watch the Leave No Trace Traveling Teams video. Certain campsites may also provide bear boxes, a locked container that prevents bears and other animals from breaking in.

As for your trash at home, help limit bear, raccoon and other wildlife break ins by keeping your trash locked up either in a garage or shed if they’re available and keep the trash inside until pick up day. If the garbage is outside, try to secure the cans upright as bears are more likely to get into the trash by tipping them over. There are even bear resistant garbage cans on the market if you live in an area highly populated by bears. Lastly, keep drugs and other paraphernalia away from wildlife, if you’ve seen the movie, it doesn’t end well for people or bears. Happy camping and, as always, Leave No Trace! 

For more information go to or contact [email protected] 

Let’s protect and enjoy our natural world together

Get the latest in Leave No Trace eNews in your inbox so you can stay informed and involved.