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Commissioners quiz forest service man on new order for food storage

Jun 21, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Public hearing Tuesday in Lander

Amid a rising number of dangerous and unwanted encounters between bears and humans, a proposed U.S. Forest Service rule on food storage would require people in the southern part of the Shoshone National Forest to keep food in bear-proof containers, in hard-sided campers, in vehicles, or hanging in a tree.

Officials plan for it to take effect in 2018.

A public meeting on the order is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, at the Fremont County Court-house, 450 N. Second St. in Lander.

Ahead of that session, a U.S. Forest Service official on Tuesday answered questions about the planned order to require safer food storage. He was interviewed by Fremont County commissioners in Lander.

"The bear-proof container, or even the bear-proof garbage can, those things still emit a food or trash odor.

"So what is the big difference between that and my cooler sitting next to my hard sided camper?" commission chairman Doug Thompson asked.

"They can be an attractant, but if they're bear-proof they don't get a reward. It doesn't cause a habituation situation," Shoshone National Forest district ranger Steve Schacht said.

"I think the concern of the people is not keeping clean but being told not to do stuff. That seems excessive," Thompson said.

"Most of our efforts have been on incident reports and warnings. It's never been about (being) punitive except for situations that are egregious, or if they've been warned multiple times," Schahct said about areas of the forest already under a food order.

"There's laws on the books where some of those pictures you took could have or should have been fined, but the actions weren't taken, yet we're taking it to another step," Commissioner Travis Becker said, referring to pictures of campers keeping food and trash out in the open in campsites.

"There aren't," Schacht said, referring to the area near Lander. "There are in Dubois and in two-thirds of the forest."

On the Loop Road, no law makes it illegal to keep a cooler or bagged trash outside, he said.

"You're going to limit families going up there because they can't afford a Yeti," Becker said, referring to a brand of bear-proof cooler.

"They could put stuff inside their cars," Schacht said.

"Or if they're backpacking," Becker continued.

"Since I've been here, we've had a check-in and checkout process for different-sized bear proof containers," Schacht said.

The containers are free to borrow, he said.

"If it's a done deal, why are we having a public meeting?" Thompson said about the order. "A public meeting is not only for the agency to give its opinion but also to listen."

"The process is the opportunity to influence how we implement it.

"So there's certainly an opportunity to influence the food storage order," Schacht said.

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