Scouts-L Mail Archive for August of 1999: Re: Bear Attack
Re: Bear Attack
Fri, 13 Aug 1999 12:12:45 -0600
Re: the bear attack at Camp Tomahawk, Wisconsin
Since this attack occurred just 15 miles from an area where my troop
frequently camps, and where I now have a 16-year old son on camp staff, I
have perhaps taken a higher-than-usual interest in this incident and
discussed the "why's" and "what next's" with wildlife biologists and
officials from Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources. Allow to me
change my hat from Scouter to professional biologist, because I think there
is an important point which has only been touched on in this forum: the
increased amount of human-bear interaction has a fairly easily identified
reason, and in the words of the Walt Kelley (who wrote the old "Pogo"
cartoon) "I have seen the enemy, and he is us".
Black bears are, by nature, scavengers (one DNR officer referred to them as
"big raccoons"). They will be drawn to areas where large amounts of food
are likely to be available, and will specifically see any food as "fair
game" if they can take it. Look at it from the bear's point of view: to
them, a scout camp looks like a giant shopping mall food court with
everything free for the taking. They are not particularly stupid: if we are
willing to bring food to the areas where they live, broadcast to them that
we have it, and then make it easily available, they are going to take it.
They are also going to call all of their relatives and say "hey, Jake, that
new free restaurant over at Camp Snortum is back in business, come on over."
Humans are just another competitor for the food.
Unfortunately, Scouting is going to put us into their territory (and they do
view it as THEIR territory), and many of the things we do in our programs
are going to attract them to our campsites. We carry and store food in
backpacks which do little to contain the smell. Coolers aren't much better.
Cooking over a fire or gas stove - particularly frying - scatters delicious
smells for miles around which will attract animals just as surely as they
will attract a hungry scout. Since at least the cooks have to stand around
while the food is being prepared, those same smells permeate the clothes we
have to wear for another day or two, then get transferred to the dirty
laundry pile growing in our packs. Patrol style camping just increases the
number of places bears can find food - they don't like crowded restaurants
any more than we do. Garbage, whether left out in a plastic bag, disposed
of in an all-metal dumpster, or packed up to be carried out, will still be
viewed as a great snack. Dirty dishwater carries lots of delicious smells.
Of course, we all have to deal with the candy in the tent issue.
The key to our scouts' safety is keeping the bears from being attracted to
our camps in the first place by minimizing food smells 24 hours a day. Two
bits of "advice" I got from a wildlife biologist may be of particular
interest to scouts. She advised separating sleeping areas from food
storage/preparation areas by at least a couple of hundred feet - in other
words, don't cook in your campsite. Also, when choosing your menu stay away
from frying fatty foods, things like bacon, sausage, and hamburgers. A lot
of other things make good sense - package food so there is no contaminated
garbage, don't leave food out, don't contaminate clothes, etc. Don't trust
bear bags to keep you safe - by the time they are useful the bear is already
in your site, and if they can smell the food in them they won't go away.
Pack 6 and Troop 6
Ed W. Thompson Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biology
Director of Cytotechnology
Winona State University