Carbon County men and women headed for the outdoors are advised to keep a clean campsite and not feed the black bears while camping in the backcountry this Memorial holiday weekend.
According to Division of Wildlife Resources mammals coordinator Craig McLaughlin, a bear which attacked two campers in Desolation Canyon this month has been the only major incident this spring between campers and bears. The campers sustained only minor injuries.
However, that could all change with the upcoming holiday weekend. Thousands of people will be enjoying time in the mountains this summer and camping in areas where bears live.
"Six years of drought has reduced the vegetation, insect populations and berries that black bears eat in the summer," McLaughlin pointed out. "So, there's a good chance more bears will be attracted to campgrounds in search of food."
Because black bears are wild animals, McLaughlin said that they are typically afraid of people.
"That changes as soon as they begin to associate people with a place to get food," he stated. "They start losing their fear of people and can become aggressive and dangerous."
McLaughlin said food is what attracts bears to people and that by following a few simple rules, people can virtually eliminate problems with bears. He encourages area residents to do the following:
Keep the campsite clean. Don't leave garbage, food scraps and fat drippings in the fire pit, or scattered around the campsite. Instead, place them in an air tight container and take them home at the end of the weekend.
Keep the cooking grills and utensils in the camping area clean.
Don't leave food out. Instead, store food and coolers in the trunk of the car, in a camping trailer, in a bear proof container or suspended at least 12 feet high between two trees, so bears can't reach them.
Plastic garbage cans and plastic food storage containers are not bear proof.
Never intentionally feed bears by leaving food out for them.
Bears have an incredible sense of smell, so make sure to cook away from the tent or sleeping area. Also, don't sleep in the clothes which were cooked in or worn while cleaning fish.
Leave those clothes, along with utensils, rags and anything else used in food preparation, cooking, eating and clean up, at the cooking area or sealed inside a vehicle.
McLaughlin indicates that when these rules aren't followed, there aren't many alternatives left.
"The first thing we'll do with a bear that's just gotten into trouble is haze it with rubber bullets or hounds or capture it in hopes that the experience will scare it enough that it won't want to visit the campground again," he commented. "This only works with bears that are brand new to the campground, however. Bears that have already associated the campground with food will come back as soon as we move them."
McLaughlin said bears have an incredible homing ability and can find their way back to an area that is as far as 100 miles away.
"It's difficult for our regional wildlife managers to find remote sites to move problem bears to. As a result, often all we've done is shift the problem to a new area of the state," he noted. "The bear is used to looking to campgrounds for food, and it will roam and find a campground in the new area."
According to McLaughlin, residents just need to remember that it is very simple to avoid putting a bear in a situation where it has to be killed to protect public safety.
Contact the Price Wildlife Resources office for more information.