A new order on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests requires visitors at all developed recreation sites to store food and other bear attractants in a bear-resistant container or inside a vehicle.
The order, which was signed by Forest Supervisor Russ Bacon in June, comes as visitation to public lands in southeast Wyoming continues to increase, setting the stage for an increase in bear/human interactions.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Forest Service spokesperson Aaron Voos. “We’ve had discussions with our law enforcement officers and our partners for a long time about this.”
According to the new rule, food and refuse must be stored in a bear-resistant container or in a sealed container inside a vehicle, unless it’s being eaten or transported. The rule applies to food, garbage, grills and stoves, cooking utensils, pet food and dishes, game meat and carcasses, fish and bait, toiletries and bug spray. Developed recreation sites include campgrounds, day-use sites, visitor centers and picnic areas.
Harvested animal carcasses must be hung at least 100 yards from developed sites.
While the order doesn’t apply to dispersed campers and backcountry users, Voos said they’re strongly encouraged to follow the same practices.
“It’s just good, common sense to not leave attractants out someplace where bears can get into them,” he said.
The Forest Service collaborated with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Colorado Parks and Wildlife in creating the order. All of southeast Wyoming and northern Colorado is black bear country, from Laramie Peak to the Pole Mountain area, the Snowy Range, the Sierra Madres and North Park.
Last summer, frequent bear activity prompted the closure of the Pike-Pole/Pickaroon area along the North Platte River to camping for several weeks in August. Earlier in the summer, the Laramie Ranger District trapped and removed two bears from the Barber Lake area near Centennial.
“Last year was particularly bad,” Voos said.
A bear conflict doesn’t necessarily mean that a human has a direct encounter with a bear, said Game and Fish spokesperson Robin Kepple. It can mean a bear entered a campsite, damaged property or obtained food.
Kepple said that as vegetation dries out in the recent hot weather, bears will start searching for alternative food sources.
“It is imperative that campers follow the food storage order to ensure bears do not receive food rewards at your campsite,” she said.
They have a keen sense of smell and are strongly attracted to human food, garbage, livestock feed and game meat. If they succeed in obtaining food from a campsite, they’ll likely become “food-conditioned.” They’ll be less likely to avoid humans and more destructive in their attempts to gain more human food.
“Bears can become aggressive if they don’t receive those food rewards,” Kepple said.
There’s also no way to re-train a problem bear.
“Being careless with any food or attractant can cost the bear its life. That’s the bottom line,” she said. “We end up having to kill bears that become used to being around people.”
For more information about camping and hiking in bear country, go to wgfd.wyo.gov/Wildlife-in-Wyoming.