You may think that the primary victims of the gigantic growth in camping activity in 2021 are national parks, camping etiquette and longtime RVers like you. But what about the poor bears?
For more than four decades I lived in Montana within sight of the Beartooth Mountain Range. It was – and still is – a beautiful place filled with tumbling rivers, mountain vistas … and a growing population of big bears. As an avid hiker, I wouldn’t leave the house without at least one can of bear deterrent spray strapped to my waist.
Keep in mind that bears in that part of the country can be of the smaller black variety (aren’t they so cute?). But the ones to watch out for are the grizzlies, an apex predator that fears nothing and can run at you at 35 mph.
The rapid growth of the grizzly population in the West has forced younger bears to leave their usual bear territory and branch out. For instance, the small mountain town of Red Lodge, Montana, is now home base for several roaming bruins. They’ve also been spotted on the urban trails near Bozeman, Missoula, and Helena.
A lot of inexperienced RVers in national parks this year
Couple what I’ve said above with the fact that there are an awful lot of inexperienced RVers out there this year, trudging through our national parks and forests. They don’t have Clue One about bear behavior, and it’s leading to more and more “confrontations.”
When big bears cross paths with newbie campers, everyone seems to lose. At best, a “nuisance” bear who gets a bit too comfortable around humans is tranquilized and relocated. At worst, a camper is seriously wounded or killed, and the bear is hunted down and destroyed.
In recent weeks, a tourist on a bicycle tour near Glacier National Park was killed while camping near the post office in nearby Ovando. The bear had made it a habit to cruise the town at night looking for food. The tourists hadn’t done a good job of keeping food away from their tents, and the bear followed his nose. An Idaho woman also was recently ordered by a judge to pay $5,800 in fines for trash on her campsite in Grand Teton National Park. The trash ended up attracting a grizzly. In that case, the bear was tranquilized and moved.
Let’s be bear aware this year in our travels. And let’s keep an eye out for those less-experienced RVers. They may be not only putting themselves in danger, but also causing a serious hazard for the entire campground neighborhood.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind, courtesy of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee:
Before you go: Check with the local forest, park, or game and fish department office to get the most recent report on bear activity in the area. Be sure you know about any special food storage regulations.
Pack smart: Avoid bringing odorous foods, like bacon or tuna, or scented toiletries. Dry, sealed foods are lighter and less aromatic. Bring 100 feet of rope, storage bags, and carabiners for hanging food.
Use bear-resistant containers: A good method for storing food and other odorous items that attract bears, these containers can be purchased or rented from outdoor shops. Coolers, backpacks, wooden boxes, and tents are NOT bear resistant.
Be alert: Learn to recognize and watch for signs of bears in the area, like tracks, scat, and diggings. Use binoculars to scan the areas ahead. Bears often use the same trails hikers do and are attracted to sources of food like berry patches or carcasses.
- Be Bear Aware, Center for Wildlife Information
- Your Safety in Bear Country, Yellowstone National Park
- Bear Safety, Glacier National Park
- Bear Safety in the North Cascades National Park
- Safety in Bear Country, Grand Teton National Park
- Videos & Podcasts: Safety in Bear Country, Grand Tetons National Park
If you’re in bear country, always carry bear spray with you. Here’s a good one.