Camping in Bear Country
Heading to the mountains for your summer vacation? You’re not the only one. Bears regularly forage through campgrounds in search of food. And guess what? Bears even go after toiletries, lipstick, air fresheners, insect repellents, canned goods, trash, and baby wipes! In short, if it smells, bears want it.
When a bear is on the prowl, catches a whiff, and intent on getting the goods, he will use his mighty claws — and your car, tent, or motor home is no match. As you can imagine, bears can cause a great deal of property damage in mere minutes. While cars, tents, and RVs can be repaired or replaced, the safety of your family and pets is of utmost concern.
In addition to property damage and safety issues, keeping bears out of your food is better for bears, too. Bears that regularly raid campsites become bolder and must be relocated or otherwise dealt with. Aggressive bears are killed. Allowing a bear access to your food could ultimately lead to its demise.
The key to a successful camping trip in bear country is a good bear management strategy and proper food storage. Campgrounds where bears are a known problem generally provide bear-proof food lockers and have specific guidelines in place that all campers must follow. In fact, Title 36, Part 2.10 of the Code of Federal Regulations: Parks, Forests, and Public Property regulates how food must be stored in national parks, forests, and public property. Proper food storage is the law.
While bear-proof lockers are available at certain campgrounds, there’s more to camping in bear country than stashing your food in these lockers. What if you’re backpacking? What if you want to go on a picnic or a hike? What if you’d like to have a few snacks inside the RV? Consider investing in bear canisters.
Bear canisters are designed to keep odors from escaping as well as to keep bears out. Most are “bear resistant” and should keep all but the most persistent bears away from your stored food and toiletries. Canisters come in a variety of sizes with features for different uses. For example, some are designed for backpackers, complete with carrying cases and straps, while others are large enough to store a full ice chest.
Before you purchase a bear canister, check with the park or forest service to ensure that the model you are interested in using has been approved for use. In addition, you may be able to rent a bear canister within the park. For example, at Yosemite, bear canisters are available for rent at most staffed wilderness permit stations within park.
Use a bear resistant liner as well as the canister. Liners help to further contain food, toiletries, and trash odors. Make sure to keep the container closed and locked at all times and store the canister at least 100 feet from your tent.
Another step to make your campsite less attractive to bears is keeping it clean. Do not hang your trash or toss beer cans in a bucket. All trash should be immediately placed in a bear-resistant receptacle. Even the sticks that you use to roast marshmallows should be disposed of properly as well as the water used to wash your dishes. The National Park Service recommends disposing of dishwater in toilets.
As you’re preparing for a camping trip in bear country, thoroughly clean your car, motor home, or trailer. Vacuum the crumbs and throw out any trash that may be stashed. If you have children that use car seats and booster seats, clean these as well and plan on storing them outside of the car once you arrive at your destination. If you have a motor home, trailer, or camper, empty the cabinets of any items attractive to bears such as microwave popcorn, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, tobacco products, pet food, and other food and toiletry items. Store in bear canisters or in storage boxes that can easily fit in the provided food lockers at your campground.
While storing your food, toiletries, and trash in bear-resistant canisters and bear lockers is inconvenient, it’s a bear management strategy that works.
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