Bears prompt food-storage order in Roaring Fork & Eagle valleys
The Aspen Times
With bears starting to wake up from hibernation and scrounging recreational areas for food, White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams has issued an order requiring campers to take food-storage precautions.
It’s the second straight year that the Forest Service has issued the mandatory order for camping areas in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys.
“The order is issued to protect people and property from possible bear interactions that may increase due to severe dry conditions this area is experiencing and a lack of natural food for bears,” the order says.
The order will remain in effect until Oct. 15 unless rescinded earlier. Incidents involving bears and people in recent weeks prompted the action, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.
The order requires that all food and refuse must be “acceptably stored or acceptably possessed” during daytime hours. All food and refuse must be acceptably stored during nighttime hours, unless they are being prepared for eating, transported or prepared for storage, the order says.
Exemptions include any federal, state or local officer or member of a rescue or firefighting force involved in the performance of an official duty or any officer placing baits to capture animals for research or management purposes.
“All food and other items that might attract bears must be stored where bears can’t access them at night and during the daytime when they are unattended,” a document attached to the order states. “Attended means that a person is physically present within 100 feet and in direct sight of the food.”
Proper storage methods include placing food and other items, such as garbage or used eating utensils, in bear-resistant containers or hard-sided vehicles or suspending them at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet from any vertical support, such as a tree trunk.
On the night of May 24, there were multiple bear encounters in the Lincoln Creek area, which does not open officially until June 15.
A large bear approached campers at one or more campsites and was undeterred by their presence, shouting, car horns and other noises, according to a statement from Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Bill Kight.
One camper reported that the bear tried to open a car door with people and a dog inside. Previous campers who improperly stored food and garbage probably played a role in the incidents, Kight said.
Visitors to camping sites must store their food, cooking equipment, utensils and coolers when away from their camping areas during the day or sleeping at night. Any odorous substance can attract bears, including garbage and refuse, cooking oil, dirty dishes and toiletries.
“It is important to prevent bears from associating any such odors with people,” Kight said.
Violations of the food-restriction order are punishable by fines of as much as $5,000 per person or $10,000 for an organization. Jail time of as long as six months also is possible in cases of extreme offense.
Martha Moran, recreation program manager for the Forest Service, said there was another incident Friday. A group of wilderness rangers were training in the Norrie Cabin area near Thomasville and sleeping in tents because of the cabin’s small size.
A small bear pressed on a small tent early in the morning, swiped it and tore it. The camper inside, who had been sleeping, was not harmed.
The rangers had been cooking burgers near the cabin the night before the incident, but the bear didn’t touch the scraps left behind on the grill. The sleeping camper did not have food in his tent but did have a toilet kit and toothpaste inside.
“Bears like the smell of toothpaste,” Moran said.
She said the bears are visiting campsites because the animals’ natural food supply is not yet abundant. Once berries, cherries and other foods ripen and become available later this summer, the bears might take a break from descending upon campgrounds and towns in search of sustenance, Moran said.
Difficult Campground has proven a particularly attractive area for bruins in search of a meal, she noted. Because of snow, the only two campgrounds in the Independence Pass area currently open to public camping are Difficult and Weller.
The order covers developed and dispersed campsites in several areas of both valleys, including the Independence Pass corridor, Maroon and Castle creeks and the Fryingpan and Crystal river corridors.
Moran said if the situation worsens, she wouldn’t be surprised to see an order soon that bans small-tent camping in those areas.
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