The U.S. Forest Service closed 11 backcountry camping sites at Crater Lake this week after a spike in bear incidents.
Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer said there were at least six incidents last weekend where more than one bear attempted to get unattended food, often successfully. In some cases, bears shredded tents to get at food improperly stored inside, she said. The bears also have figured out how to sever the lines used to suspend food caches in trees.
In an unusual incident last week, a bear interrupted a family’s picnic at the lake, grabbed some food and ran off, according to Schroyer. No human injuries have been reported in the incidents.
Wilderness rangers closed the Crater Lake campsites on Sunday and carried out about 13 pounds of food and litter from the area. The 11 campsites will remain closed for an unknown time as the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife monitor bear activity.
“If they’re as active and bold as they have been, I don’t think we’ll reopen it” this year, Schroyer said.
“The bears are up there,” she added. “They’re pretty much looking for food 20 hours a day.”
No restrictions have been placed on day uses such as hiking and picnicking around Crater Lake.
Signs warning of the closure were posted on trails leading to Crater Lake, a popular destination 1.5 miles south of Maroon Lake. The camping closure applies to an area one-quarter mile around the lake.
The Forest Service doesn’t want its action to simply drive the hungry bears farther up the West Maroon Creek drainage, it plans to approve a special order next week requiring that campers in that 3-mile drainage use a bear-resistant canister to store their food and garbage. That order could be approved as soon as Monday, Schroyer said.
“We just don’t want people to get hurt,” said Bill Kight, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest.
The order also could protect bears. Bears that get used to human sources of food often create conflicts that leave the state wildlife officers with no choice but to kill them.
The Forest Service has asked sporting-goods retailers in the Aspen area to stock up on the containers in anticipation of increased demand.
The Forest Service is advising campers and backpackers in West Maroon to buy the bear canisters even before they are required, call rangers in advance to inquire about bear activity and consult “Bear Facts” online at www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3813048.pdf.
The Forest Service earlier this summer implemented a five-year seasonal requirement that food be stored in lockers or in closed vehicles at established campgrounds and some of the more popular dispersed camping areas accessible by vehicle. The White River National Forest also approved a bear-management plan, which outlines how the agency responds to bear-related issues.