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Forest ordering safe food storage

Jun 7, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Problems with bears have prompted the Shoshone National Forest to pursue requiring campers in Fremont County to store food securely.

The rule would take effect in about three years, officials say.

The order would require campers to keep food in their vehicles, in provided bear boxes, in portable bear-safe containers or hanging from a tree.

The agency is holding a public meeting on the issue at 6 p.m. June 23 at the Fremont County Courthouse, 450 N. Second St. in Lander.

Foresters first implemented the food storage rule in northern parts of the Shoshone National Forest about 20 years ago, Washakie District ranger Steve Schacht said. Administrators expanded the regulation southward, and now, forest supervisor Joe Alexander wants to extend it to the region around Dubois and above Lander.

A similar move about 10 years ago failed, Schacht said.

Alexander would sign the order next spring, Schacht said, and foresters would focus on education, adding signage and installing bear boxes for two years before starting to enforce the rule in 2018.

"We'll share information, explain the science and the facts around the situation, and try to alleviate fears that this is going to cause any problems," Schacht said "The Forest Service has implemented these types of orders in forests everywhere from the east coast to the west coast."

Bridger-Teton National Forest officials plan to implement a similar rule in the Wind River Mountains southwest of the Continental Divide.

The expansion of grizzly bears into the lower Wind River Mountains was a factor in expanding the food storage order, Schacht said, but the increasing numbers of black bears becoming habituated to taking food from campsites was a larger component.

"We've had enough situations where we think it's the right time to start requiring people to store their food properly when they're out camping," Schacht said.

Poor food storage has caused increasing numbers of problems.

"It only takes one person to create a situation," Schacht said.

After obtaining food left out at a campsite once, a bear is likely to return to other campsites for sustenance. Schacht noted that three black bears last year near Grave Lake learned to seek food at campsites and bothered forest users all year.

The only solution is to kill the bear or have the Wyoming Game and Fish Department remove the animal, Schacht said.

"This is a simple measure we can put in place to reduce the potential for that conflict," he said.

To help campers follow the rule, forest officials have purchased 57 bear boxes and plan to install them at campgrounds.

"Every developed site in Lander and in Dubois will have a bear box," Schacht said.

There are too many dispersed sites in the forest to provide the equipment for all of them, Schacht said. Shoshone National Forest offices also have bear-proof canisters available for campers to borrow so they can stay safe and comply with the rule, the ranger said.

"The inconvenience is small compared to the public safety," Schacht said.

If campers purchase a bear-proof container, they should look for a sticker on the product saying the Interagency Grizzly Committee approved it. The group tests storage devices with captive grizzlies. If they bears cannot open them, the product gets the sticker.

Other options under the order include storing food within portable electric fences or hanging food in a tree, Schacht said, but he warned some parts of the Shoshone National Forest do not have any trees or branches big enough to hang food safely away from bears.

Forest users also can keep their food in a vehicle or camper trailer.

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