Rocky Mountain National Park mandates bear-proof backcountry food containers
April 30, 2009
With only about 20 to 25 bears left in Rocky Mountain National Park ” considered one of the lowest densities of black bears in the country ” the Park is taking steps to save them by changing human behavior.
Starting May 1, overnight campers will be required to store food in bear-resistant food canisters, or bear vaults, when exploring the backcountry.
Bear canisters, cylindrical containers that weigh less than 3 pounds made out of high impact plastic, aluminum or carbon fiber, are designed to fit inside or on the outside of backpacks. Most are about 12 inches high by 9 inches in diameter.
Such containers have no rough edges where a bear could pry to get inside, and the diameter is too large for a bear to get its jaws around, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. One canister can hold about five to six days of food for one person or up to three-days worth of food for two people.
In spite of food-storage education at the Park, officials say, incidences of bear-to-human contact at many of the Park’s 267 backcountry camping sites continue to occur, with food being the main attractant.
“We have seen an increase in bears seeking and acquiring food.” said Mark Magnuson, the Park’s Chief Ranger. “We’ve seen an increase in tents being shredded and cabins and vehicles being broken into.
“We feel that this requirement is important and necessary to protect the bear population and protect visitors, without closing more backcountry campsites. The last thing park staff want to do is remove a problem bear.”
Bears who become habituated to certain sites where humans are known to have food can become a threat to humans. Sometimes the Park’s recourse is to kill these “problem” bears.
Rather than hang food 10 feet high, four feet away in a tree, as was the common standard before canisters, campers should store bear-proof canisters 70 adult steps away from the camp site, buried in a hollow, according to Ranger Berry Sweet, who manages the Park’s backcountry office.
Because bears don’t have opposable thumbs, they are unable to open the bear canisters. Bears may bat them around, but since there is no place to hook a nail into the canisters, they have proved effective in both zoo and field testing.
According to the Park’s new regulation, which is in effect from May 1 to Oct. 31, campers who do not store their food in bear vaults could be cited. The Park regulation applies to campsites below treeline, which is the majority of sites in the park.
Campers need to supply their own canisters, available for rent or purchase at sporting good shops or on the Internet.
“We feel this is a small step to take to protect the park’s vulnerable bear population,” Magnuson said. “We are being proactive before it gets worse.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.