Bear country camping: Be proactive
Editor’s note: The following is used by permission from the new book “Living with Bears: A Practical Guide to Bear Country” by Linda Masterson. The book deals with common bear country issues, including those experienced in the Lake Tahoe Basin. It is available at Grass Roots Natural Foods, 2040 Dunlap in South Lake Tahoe. Call (530) 541-7788.
Hot dogs roasting on an open fire. Chicken, fish or burgers sizzling on the grill. Gooey marshmallows sticking to your fingers. Coolers full of beer, pop, watermelon and potato salad. Plenty of chips, cookies and snacks. Sunscreen, lip balm, shampoo, deodorant, inspect repellent, moisturizing lotion. Welcome to the bountiful served up at the average front-country campground.
We may go camping to get away from it all, but many folks bring their pantries with them. The average drive-in camper shows up in the bear’s backyard toting enough calories to put the average bear in a food coma. Combine plenty of available food with an endless supply of calorie-laden garbage and it’s easy to see why bears are attracted to campgrounds.
The majority of bear incidents that occur out in the woods happen in campgrounds, picnic areas and parking lots – places where the resident bears expect to find plenty of tasty treats.
Whether you’re camping in a drive-to, developed campground, a hike-in backcountry camp or just pitching your tent in a nice spot in the middle of nowhere, some common-sense precautions can help keep your camp bear-free.
Clean up your act
The single most important thing you can do when camping in bear country is to keep a clean camp. Leaving food, trash and other things with odors in the open is asking for bear trouble.
— Don’t bury or burn garbage or trash. Burying actually makes trash more attractive because the food molecules and odors intensify and disperse on the wind.
— If bear-resistant garbage cans are available, use them.
— Pack a can of Lysol. Or mix up a concoction of 50 percent ammonia and 50 percent water and then spray down your picnic table, the outside of your tent, even your backpack.
— Declare your tent a food-free zone. Do not eat or store food and toiletries in your tent. You might know your avocado-honeyed shampoo only smells good enough to eat, but a bear doesn’t. Food or other attractants have been involved in the vast majority of cases when a black bear has entered someone’s tent.
— Burn off any food residue on your grill or stove and thoroughly incinerate any grease or food particles.
— Don’t sleep where you cook. Cooking areas should be at least 100 yards downwind – your sleep area, cooking area and hanging trees should form a nice triangle.
— Hide your cooler. Experienced bears love coolers. Keep them in the trunk.
— Use your bear-proof lockers. If you don’t have them, trees for hanging food and packs should be at least 100 yards downwind of your camp. If there are no trees and you don’t have a bear canister, double or triple bag everything and leave the bags on the ground at least 100 yards downwind of your camp.
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