Camp organization and cleanliness take on heightened significance in bear country. The primary concern here is safety, both for the visitor and the bear. Although black bears are shy and usually prefer to stay away from people, a bear can be a very dangerous animal if provoked or habituated to humans. Personal safety is the first priority, but safety of the bear is also a concern. Once habituated to people-usually because it associates people with food-it can rapidly become a “problem” bear and will have to be dealt with accordingly, ultimately at the expense of its life.
Where bears are present, carefully follow the practices listed below. If a bear encounter occurs, it should be reported to the appropriate wildlife agency or land management office.
Watch for signs of bears such as tracks, scat, claw marks, and diggings. It is best to move to another campsite if any recent bear activity is seen.
Store food so it’s unavailable and uninviting to any wild animals. This includes dry and canned items, garbage, tobacco, pet food, and scented or flavored toiletries. Double bagging food in plastic bags is highly recommended to reduce odors. Under no circumstances should used toilet paper or feminine hygiene products be left in personal gear or stored near sleeping areas.
The most widely used method of storage is to hang food at least 10-12 feet off the ground and four to five feet away from the trunks of trees. If local guidelines recommend that you increase these distances, consider it good advice and do so. The goal is to keep bears-very agile and often quite deter mined-from detecting and accessing food. Even if food is hung as recommended, bears may still reach it.
Light-weight, bear-resistant containers are a promising new equipment item. Check with local land managers or sporting goods shops for local availability. Place kitchens and food at least 100 feet downwind of tents, trails, other camps, and facilities such as outhouses or shelters. This will allow you to monitor any situation that might occur, but from a safe distance. Practice hanging food at home to make sure you can do it competently and that you have the right ropes and other equipment.
Avoid foods with strong odors, such as bacon or tuna, that can attract bears. Leftovers will have a strong scent and should be sealed in doubled plastic bags and hung or stored with the food. Keep your kitchen clean.
Food should not be taken into the tent. Keep clothing free of food odors. Do not wipe your hands on them while cooking and/or store with the food the clothes you’ve worn while cooking.
Use a sump hole for depositing gray water from cleaning dishes. This is a hole dug similarly to a cathole that is re-covered after use. Sump holes concentrate waste water and associated food odor, localizing it in the kitchen, rather than broadcasting it over a larger area.