The White River National Forest is getting close to issuing a special order that would require visitors in most designated campgrounds to store their food to prevent encounters with bears.
If approved as contemplated, the rule would cover campgrounds in the Aspen-Sopris, Blanco, Eagle, Holy Cross and Rifle ranger districts over the next five years, according to Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. It would not cover the Dillon Ranger District, where problems between bears and campers haven’t materialized, he said.
As drafted, the special order says violators could be fined up to $5,000. Fitzwilliams said the standard fine would be $125.
The special order would start each year in May and last into the fall. The end date is still being debated. Bear encounters with campers have tailed off in late summer in past years, Fitzwilliams said. Plus, the Forest Service doesn’t want rules that would be too restrictive during big-game hunting season.
Fitzwilliams also noted that it would make little sense to have a rule that makes a camper liable for a fine for leaving marshmallows on a table overnight when an elk is dressed at a different campsite within the same campground.
“That seems to be a little hard to justify,” he said.
In the Aspen-area, the regulations would apply to all established campgrounds and day-use areas such as the Grottos, according to the White River National Forest website. The only dispersed camping areas affected would be along Lincoln Creek and at the end of the pavement in Castle Creek. Dispersed camping is where there are established fire rings and disturbance from camping but no official campground.
The food-storage requirement didn’t start in May this year because the agency was going through the administrative process of implementing it. The rule was proposed in April and the Forest Service invited public comment.
The agency said there has been an increase in the number of bear incidents at high-use camping areas since 2010. “Several incidents involved bears feeding on human food, garbage and other attractants such as cooking waste, toiletries, and pet foods when visitors were absent from camp or sleeping,” said an earlier statement by the agency.
Once bears associate food with campgrounds, they pose a danger to campers. Fitzwilliams said that since the Forest Service invites people to campgrounds, it has an obligation to make the areas safe. Bear-proof food lockers have been installed in numerous campgrounds, including the heavily used Difficult Campground east of Aspen, and Chapman Campground in the Upper Fryingpan Valley.
Even when there isn’t a locker, the order would require campers to properly store unattended food, garbage and “odorous attractants.” Food must be stored in a locker, bear-resistant container, closed and locked vehicles or properly hung in a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and four feet from the trunk or major branches.