Bear problems: planning ahead
Alan Houser (troop24@EMF.NET)
Thu, 22 Aug 1996 23:52:21 -0700
Since the flames in rec.backcountry have started dying down, I started
thinking about the Yosemite bear cub incident in a different light this
evening, specifically what would I do differently to prepare for a trek
like this. One thing I hope to train my Scouts is to plan for what
might go wrong. Obviously, something went wrong for Huntington Beach
Troop 1 last week. I invite others familiar with the area or the problem
to weigh in as well.
But for ground rules, let's try to keep the subject on how you would
_prepare_ for such a trek and avoid both the troop bashing and legal
defense fund stuff.
For those of you who don't live and/or camp in problem bears' territory,
remember that Philmont has bears. Naive bears by Yosemite standards,
but bears capable of being a problem. Your problem. BTW, in '93 we
heard about problem bears all around us, but we never saw one and we
never had a problem. Don't avoid Philmont because of the bears.
The site of last week's incident, Little Yosemite Valley, has long been
notorious as perhaps the worst place for bear-backpacker interactions. I
myself have not been there in over 25 years for exactly that reason, so
it's nothing new. I definitely would not take a Scout troop in there.
Others do. You takes your chances. I wouldn't. There are too many
other places you can go. Even in Yosemite.
Granting that this is the worst place for bears, we want not only to
avoid confrontations in Yosemite, but in areas where the bears have not
yet become a problem. We want to avoid the bears becoming habituated to
backpackers' food (and really, by extension, campers' food, since that's
where the whole problem started).
Any troop that is going into an area with problem bears should know the
problems of the area and be prepared. If you end up hanging food in an
area where the bears know how to retrieve hanging food, you have pretty
much admitted defeat.
Bear-proof containers are required in the Yosemite backcountry. Although
they say, "You can rent them in the Valley," it's not unreasonable for a
group that size planning a trip during the height of the backcountry season
for that distance/time to recognize that they might need more than is
available for the weekend backpackers. I've looked at them at REI. I've
stuffed some of the backpack meals into them in the store. I have to say
that the brochures overestimate how many days' supply of food fits in them.
Remember also to have room for toothpaste, soap, etc.
You can buy/rent the containers at home. Or mail order (Campmore has them,
so does REI). If you had obtained some containers ahead of time, you can
practice filling them to determine how many you would need. Then, can you
call ahead and reserve them ahead of time? If not, then you'd better rent
them at home. Murphy's Law: if you need them and are counting on renting
them at the last possible place to pick them up, there won't be enough.
OK, you've planned ahead, you've got enough bear containers to hold the
week's worth of food for 15. Now the bear comes into camp while you're
cooking it. The Park Service does tell you to discourage the bear from
the food. You make noise, you throw pine cones or even rocks (that's
what the NPS tells you). Eventually, you will have to decide whether
or not to give up the food. With a crew of Scouts that I'm responsible
for, I will give up the food to protect the Scouts. No brainer. In doing
so, I realize that the bear may end up dead because he has learned to
associate food with folks cooking a meal.
Which brings me back to the beginning: I won't take my Scouts into an
area like Little Yosemite Valley which has aggressive bears who know how
to get food from backpackers. I will not go into places where they have
learned to grab bearbags by leaping from the branch above and riding it
to the ground. I will not take Scouts into an area where the bears have
learned to raid campsites while the food is being cooked. So, I have to
know about the area before going there. Talk to the rangers. Ask them
about the bear problem and the solutions they recommend.
Alan R. Houser ** Scoutmaster, Berkeley Troop 24 ** firstname.lastname@example.org
** WWW page ** http://www.emf.net/~troop24/t24.html **
Scoutmaster, Mt. Diablo Silverado Council Contingent Jamboree Troop #3
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City