Lander audience hears food order details for bear countryJun 30, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Support and opposition to a planned food storage rule for the southern Shoshone National Forest was about even among the 20 people at a public meeting on the issue in Lander, though some did not show which way they leaned.
U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming Game and Fish officials said bear conflicts have become more common over the years in the lower Wind River mountains, and food storage orders have a track record of decreasing bear problems.
"When bears do become food conditioned they associate people with a food source and they become extremely disruptive in their attempts to get food," WGFD large carnivore conflict coordinator Brian DeBolt said. "(They become) very aggressive and dangerous toward people."
The planned order would require visitors to the Shoshone National Forest to store food, trash and carcasses from hunting in their vehicles, hanging in a tree or in a bear-proof container. The new rule would apply to the national forest south of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Other parts of the forest have had a food storage order in place, in some cases for decades.
Atlantic City is an example of better food storage cutting down on bear problems, DeBolt said.
Bears had been getting into trash cans and the transfer station in Atlantic City, he said, but WGFD helped install bear-proof trash containers.
"They haven't had any bear issues up there lately," he said.
One man in the audience was concerned the food storage order was part of a plan of WGFD's to release grizzlies in the lower Winds.
"This doesn't have anything to do with grizzly bears," DeBolt said.
His agency has never released grizzlies in the mountains above Lander and had no intention of doing so in the future, he said.
Another person asked for data to show the rise of bear conflicts in the southern Shoshone National Forest.
He did not have the data on hand, but he did have it, DeBolt said.
"Our workload has become quite a bit more dealing with conflicts, both black and grizzly bears are growing in distribution and more people are using the area," he said.
Some in the crowd said they were not satisfied without seeing the hard numbers.
Fremont County Commission chairman Doug Thompson asked if hunting a deterrent against bears causing conflicts.
"I won't pretend to say hunting is going to reduce overall conflicts, but it is a very effective site-specific tool," DeBolt said.
When he knows of a problem bear and a hunter wanting to harvest a bear, DeBolt has asked the hunter to remove the animal causing issues, and the solution has worked, he said.
The national forest has installed 30 poles in the southern Shoshone National Forest for hanging carcasses and other food sources to keep them away from bears.
Thompson asked if hanging carcasses still causes problems by attracting black bears.
They do attract bears, DeBolt said, but game poles do not lead to more bear-human conflicts.
"If a bear comes in and sniffs around, if they don't get anything an easy meal they move on," DeBolt said. "They're naturally afraid of folks , when they leave things out unsecured and they get an easy meal that's when they become destructive."
Another person asked if the order would impact tourism in the lower Winds.
Shoshone National Forest wildlife biologist Brandon Houck did not think so.
"The order has been in effect on the north zone for 20 years, and ... I don't think we've seen any decrease in visitation," he said.
Sam Lightner Jr. of the Central Wyoming Climbers Alliance said his group supported the food storage order. Many climbers from Utah and Colorado who visit the lower Winds are not familiar with camping in bear country, Lightner said. He asked the Forest Service for to help climbers keep clean camps in the Wild Iris climbing area
"We don't have any bear boxes, and we would love to have bear boxes, and we would like more official-looking signs," he said.
Forest supervisor Joe Alexander plans to sign the food storage order later this year, but the agency would focus on education for the first year at least, forest spokeswoman Kristie Salzmann said in an interview. Officials would begin enforcing the order in 2017.
The Shoshone Forest does not have more public meetings planned now but intends to do more outreach once it develops an education strategy, she said.
Correction: This story and headline should have said the meeting took place in Lander. The correction was made July 1.