Comments sought on wilderness rules on bear containers | AspenTimes.com

Comments sought on wilderness rules on bear containers

Staff report

A sign on the trail to Crater Lake warns backpackers last summer that camping is closed at the 11 sites near the lake because of ongoing bear conflicts.

The public is being asked to comment on proposed revisions to regulations in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness that would require visitors to store food and garbage in bear-resistant containers and prohibit campfires above 10,800 feet in elevation.

The White River and Gunnison national forests are proposing the rule revisions through a special order that would be in effect for five years starting in 2016. The U.S. Forest Service is asking for public comment by Jan. 1.

The revisions are needed to minimize resource damage caused by wilderness visitors and to curb the number of bear conflicts with humans, according to the agency.

"Black bear habituation to human food and presence has been a long-running problem in the Aspen area," said a report by Lead Wilderness Ranger Andrew Larson. "Records beginning in 2010 document how this behavior pattern has migrated to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness."

The number of bear conflicts with humans jumped from zero to two per year in 2010 through 2013 to 23 in 2014 and 41 in the summer.

Bears have been habituated to humans and learned to seek human food sources from campsites. The problem was bad enough around Crater Lake that it was closed to camping the past two summers. Crater Lake is at the gateway to the wilderness, about 11/2 miles from Maroon Lake.

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Rangers said requiring campers to hang their food and garbage in trees with the use of ropes is ineffective because most campers don't do it correctly. An emergency order was approved in the summer by the White River National Forest requiring the use of bear-resistant canisters.

About 90 percent of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is in the White River and 10 percent is in the Gunnison National Forest.

The Forest Service said the proposed five-year special order would vary from the summer's emergency order in a significant way. The prior order required hard-sided bear resistant canisters. The new order allows any container approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, available at http://www.igbconline.org/images/pdf/150911_Certified_Products_List.pdf.

Another notable change is a proposed modification of the existing campfire regulation, which is needed to address impacts related to firewood collection in sensitive tree-line forest stands. The current regulation prohibits "building, maintaining, attending, or using a campfire within a quarter mile of treeline or above." The proposed regulation would change that prohibition to "building, maintaining, attending or using a campfire above 10,800 feet elevation." The purpose of this change is to clearly articulate the elevation of tree line in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

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For more information on Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Regulations click on: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whiteriver/recarea/?recid=81118

The comment deadline is Jan. 1, 2016. To comment and for more information, contact Martha Moran or Andrew Larson by telephone at 970-404-3155 or 970-404-3149, by email mmoran@fs.fed.us or arlarson@fs.fed.us.

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