USFS eyes extending bear-proof canisters for backpackers in Aspen wilderness | AspenTimes.com

USFS eyes extending bear-proof canisters for backpackers in Aspen wilderness

A black sow and her cinnamon cub became adept at finding food at campsites around Crater Lake last summer. Officers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife installed a bear hazing trap at the campsites in September to try to make the bears wary of human food sources.

The U.S. Forest Service is considering approval of a special order that would require backpackers to use bear-resistant food and garbage containers in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness over the next five years.

The White River National Forest has approved emergency orders the last two summers after conflicts arose between bruins and humans. The greatest numbers of issues have flared up at Crater Lake, a gateway to wilderness about 1.5 miles from Maroon Lake. However, rangers reported issues throughout West Maroon Valley, toward Buckskin Pass and, in a different part of the wilderness, in the Capitol Lake area.

Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer said approving a five-year special order would eliminate the need to pass emergency orders on a yearly basis. The conflicts have increased in number in the last two years and there is no reason to believe they will stop without requiring backpackers to properly store food and garbage, she said.

The plan is to have the special order approved late this winter or early in the spring, prior to backpacking season.

A report on bear incidents by Lead Wilderness Ranger Andrew Larson shows there were just a handful of bear incident reports filed by the public and Forest Service staff each year from 2010 through 2013. Incidents soared to 23 in 2014 and 41 last summer.

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

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"A robust educational campaign, incremental emergency orders and other management responses have so far failed to stem the trend of increasing bear-human conflict in the (Wilderness)," the report continued. "In order to preserve the wildness of Wilderness bears, protect human safety and property while minimizing the need for emergency management intervention, an order is being considered to require overnight visitors to store all scented items in an approved, bear resistant container in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness."

The problem with conflicts was particularly bad as Crater Lake, where the Forest Service banned camping for parts of the last two summers. A dark black sow and her cinnamon-colored cub got adapt last summer at getting food at campsites.

The five-year special order is being considered in the Gunnison National Forest as well as the White River National Forest. About 90 percent of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is in the White River and 10 percent in the Gunnison, including some popular trailheads. For example, the Copper Lake trailhead in the Gunnison National Forest is used by some backpackers heading to Conundrum Hot Springs, a popular destination.

The Forest Service wants to provide a consistent message for visitors, Larson's report said.

The emergency orders required hard-sided canisters the last two years. The proposed order will allow anything certified as bear-resistant through the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Inspection Program: http://www.igbconline.org/images/pdf/150911_Certified_Products_List.pdf.

Forest Service officials contend that hanging food and garbage in a tree by ropes isn't effective because many backpackers cannot properly do it. The report included a link to a YouTube video that shows a bear "getting a food reward from improperly hung food" in West Maroon Valley, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjePw0R283o.

The report also has a link to a video that shows a young bear posturing on the Capitol Creek Trail. It got habituated and shows little fear of the rangers it encountered, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ohy-aPzQFKA.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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