Juniper Prairie Wilderness temporarily closed

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Feb. 13, 2019 – Effective immediately, Juniper Prairie Wilderness on the Ocala National Forest is temporarily closed due to increased bear activity. It will reopen on March 13, 2019.

USDA Forest Service officials, in consultation with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials, have issued this closure for the protection of public safety and health. Forest Service law enforcement officers will enforce the closure, which runs the wilderness boundary and includes all roads and trails within the area defined on the boundary map.

The following persons are exempt from the closure:

  • Persons with a permit specifically authorizing the otherwise prohibited act or omission.
  • Any federal, state, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of their official duty.

Visitors to the area surrounding the wilderness should report any nuisance bear activity to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline (888) 404-3922. The wilderness will reopen when Forest Service and FWC officials determine it is safe.

“We estimate that more than 1,000 bears live on the Ocala National Forest,” said District Ranger Carl Bauer of the Ocala National Forest. “However, some people don’t practice Leave No Trace (LNT) or adhere to wilderness ethics when they visit Juniper Prairie. If they leave food or other attractants at their campsites, bears learn that tents mean food. A habituated bear will rip into tents regardless of people or food being present. This type of activity endangers all our visitors.”

Practicing LNT can reduce and/or deter nuisance bear and wildlife activity. For tips and information on outdoor ethics visit the LNT website at

“The LNT website is a great resource that provides training and guidance for enjoying the great outdoors responsibly,” said Bauer.

The National Forest in Florida has a long-standing Food Storage Restriction Order, which, if violated, can result in monetary fines and imprisonment. The order is available online at

For additional information, please call the Lake George Ranger District office at (352) 625-2520 or the Seminole Ranger District office at (352) 669-3153, or go online to