Protecting bears and people: New rule requires stricter food storage in Routt National Forest
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A new rule requires campers at developed recreation sites in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest to properly secure all of their food and any items that might attract bears in bear-resistant containers.
The move comes as one of the latest ways to reduce conflicts with bears in the area, an issue that has worsened in recent years.
Under the rule, all food and other attractants must be stored in bear-resistant containers unless people are actively preparing a meal, eating or transporting food. Attractants also can be stored inside a vehicle or hard-sided camper as long as it remains in a sealed container, according to the rule.
Other than food, bear attractants can include BBQ grills and stoves, cooking utensils, pet food, toiletries and bug spray, among others.
Caught game, from fish to deer, need to be properly stored in bear-resistant containers or inside vehicles in a sealed container, according to the rule. Hunters may field-dress game in developed sites, but carcasses need to be hung more than 100 yards from these areas.
Developed recreation sites include campgrounds, day-use sites, visitor centers and picnic areas, according to the news release.
Individuals who violate the order could receive a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in prison, according to the rule. Organizations found guilty could face up to a $10,000 fine and six months in prison.
In a news release about the rule, Forest Service Supervisor Russ Bacon said encounters with bears are becoming an “all-too frequent” issue that officials want to resolve before it worsens.
“We do not want bears to be tempted to visit recreation sites where close encounters with the public could occur,” Bacon said.
Conflicts with bears can put people and pets in harm’s way, but more often, bears face the gravest consequences. Wildlife officials prioritize nonlethal action when it comes to dealing with bears that pose a threat, relocating the animals when possible. If that does not work, they resort to killing the bear.
In a letter to the Forest Service, Kris Middledorf, a local wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, supported the rule as an effective way to reduce conflicts between bears and humans. Bears that find food at one campsite have been shown to habitually return to the site up to a year later in search of more food, according to a 2005 study from CPW.
“With that kind of affinity for food sources, one irresponsible camper can lead to trouble for many other campers in the future,” Middledorf said of the study’s findings.
The city of Steamboat Springs has taken similar steps to reduce conflicts with bears. In May, Steamboat Springs City Council passed an ordinance requiring residents and businesses to keep their trash in bear-resistant containers, bear-resistant dumpsters or within a bear-resistant enclosure.
At the time, the Steamboat Springs Police Department had already received 44 bear calls, an increase of about 94% from the same time last year, according to Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen.
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