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PCT thru-hikers and bear canisters

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Postby markskor » Mon Feb 27, 2006 8:50 pm

Wanderer,
I also apologize if I came down heavy on you...not my intention.
I also do feel strongly about protecting the bear ...especially for my grandchildren...
That being said, yes the laws/regulations/statutes are somewhat unfair.
What about this: "7 mile from any road", you “must use a can or else” condition in Yosemite?
Is there a line drawn on the soil? (Seems a bit vague)
How are we to know where is it is legal - exactly...why?.
Why is it OK for JMT hikers not to have to obey the same laws as the rest? Why are some sections exempt? Can the bears read a trail map?
Are the bears outside Yosemite any less worthy of our protection?
My biggest complaint though is the "you cannot hang anything" regulation in Yosemite...I agree that all should go into the can if at all possible, unfortunately, sometimes...not intentional but...I still would rather hang those things first night...the liquor bottle...chapstick...any spills, than sleep with them, but...and as for the fine, $5000 or $100, whatever...it does not make sense if you are sincerely trying to keep to the spirit of the law.
Oh, BTW, Why are bear cables legal, but bear boxes non-existent?

Once again, 1000 pardons.
Mark
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prowlin' and growlin'...

Postby gdurkee » Mon Feb 27, 2006 9:46 pm

markskor:

The theory on JMT or PCT hikers is that since they're doing such long trips, it's assumed there's no way to carry enough canisters. In Sequoia Kings (only, I think) they are still not allowed to hang their food. They must use a bear box, just don't have to have a canister in those areas where they're otherwise required. Not absolutely sure of current regs. in Yosemite. They allow hanging in many areas.

Yep, it's a bit confusing at times, but that's why you get a wilderness permit and, with luck, check your map. Some areas aren't yet considered bad enough (with bear encounters) to require canisters. Some, like the Pinchot - Cedar Grove - Forester triangle are considered bad enough that you absolutely are required to have a canister or be at a bear box. I actually am at the point where I think they should be required in all areas between Yosemite and Horseshoe Meadow just to avoid the confusion you and others complain about and, more importantly, because the bears just move around. As you note, they can't read maps.. . (I'm not so sure of that, actually...).

The problem is both the NPS and USFS are reactive -- they impose the regulations AFTER the bears become a problem and not before. Thus the gerrymandered maps of 'required' areas.

Re: cables vs. boxes. See my post above. It's an interpretation on esthetics and wilderness. Sequoia and Yosemite interpret it differently. Life isn't always fair or consistent... . Sorry about that.

This, though, is the take-home message: The "Spirit" of the law is to keep bears from getting human food. Hanging food does not work, even if it's allowed. To prevent bears from getting food you really, law or no law, should carry enough canisters to hold all your food or get to a bear box.

Good luck,

George
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Postby markskor » Mon Feb 27, 2006 11:33 pm

George,
Thanks for the quick and concise report...but now I am more confused than ever...
Hanging, which as you say (admittedly), "does not work" but is safer than sleeping with food as a first alternative (if temporarily overstocked), which seems a bit more dangerous...to humans…but will not get you fined.
If you get a "JMT wilderness permit," and bail out early on the trip, then it is OK not to have to carry a bear can, but if you are only going...say Onion Valley to Yosemite, and are truthful, you have to have one. Hmmmmm?
If you are travelling ultralight, you are exempt, but if you travel traditional, you are not. (Maybe if I carry a little sign - “I am an ultra-light , JMT camper", thus it will (trick) dissuade the bears?)
It is OK for one agency to accept bear cables..., which have the potential to cut bear on sharp steel cable, but a brown, hidden, bear box is aesthetically unpleasing to humans...
Yosemite, which runs active strings of mules to Merced HSC…often returning back empty, refuses to implement more needed bear boxes in heavy use areas (too much trash accumulation) …but it is OK for rangers like you to have to carry trash out by hand from Rae Lakes..
Gerrymandering restrictions - accepted by some Sierra districts, but shunned by others...
Life is not fair... Do not these agencies not talk to each other? I guess they believe their individual backyard bears differ that much from those found in another’s backyard.
Reactive measures are the norm for NPS, but anathema to YPS... (WTF?) I guess we are just SOL…Lots of BS - LOL...
I guess wilderness definitions vary as to where in the Sierra you are...

The writing is on the wall…soon (I pray) a bear canister will be mandatory for the entire Sierra for all overnighters…sounds fairest to me.
I wonder how long it will take.

Exposing the hypocrisy in forums such as this…..out in the open…. Maybe we together will fix this…sooner than later.
Mark
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prowlin'

Postby gdurkee » Tue Feb 28, 2006 1:56 pm

Mark:

Ah, a vital element missing and some of it may be my fault... . No matter what or who or where, the food HAS to be secured in an approved manner. Sleeping with it is not an approved manner. In Sequoia Kings, there's no exception for through-hikers to get out of the basic responsibility of securing the food. They CANNOT hang it in areas where canisters are otherwise required. They can ONLY go to a bear box. Sleeping with the food is every bit as much a violation as hanging or stuffing under a rock. It is also hugely, hugely dumb. Way dumb. I know people do it (a lot of PCT hikers). Every year we get 2 or 3 injuries as a result and, more importantly, we get bears who learn to rip into tents even when no food is present. If you talk to someone doing it, feel free to tell them they're putting you and everyone else at risk as a result of their stupidity.

Yosemite has no exception for through-hikers. You either carry a canister or try to power through to the areas where hanging is allowed.

A few years back, the various forests & parks formed the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group. A good start for all these folks to begin talking to each other and make regulations consistent. But you've still got 3 different National Parks and, I think, 5 different National Forests. It's gonna be awhile... . Not hypocrisy, just slow and not always hugely organized... .

George
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Postby markskor » Thu Mar 02, 2006 6:35 pm

George,
After thinking about this for a week now, and I guess I've narrowed it down to perhaps, someone has not thought this through all the way. (I am sorry to beat a dead horse here but...)
The current regs say no hanging anymore in Yosemite - probably soon in most of the Sierra. The current fine - $100 - $5000 - whatever...It is easy for anyone to spot brightly-colored hanging bags from afar - a surefire magnet for a backcountry official (Can we say ranger here?) - fer sure.

Thus, human nature being what it is, this current regulation does have the effect of encouraging (pressuring?) backpackers into sleeping with items. Argue all you want, (and I agree with your arguments too), this rule actually forces people - (those of us already carrying regulation bear cans) - who would before hang a few items for safety - right directly above the camp in plain "pot-banging" sight - now to sleep with some small items... for want of anything else, or any other readily available alternative. Why hang, invite a ranger to come over, even though hanging is/was the best safety option. "I will just stash "it" in the tent."
As bears learn that more people are not hanging - they now look closer into tents for their pre-learned sustenance; the bear finds more success - finds the "it" - in the tent area, (mainly due to this no hanging policy)... If just one person suffers an injury - perish the thought - death - due to this pressure - this philosophy, is it worth it.
(A lawsuit waiting to happen...)
I suggest - for all overnighters:
1) mandate carrying at least one bear can for all areas - per permit (above 5000 ft...?) Horseshoe Meadows to Tahoe.
2) make it legal to hang those dubious items (smell, oils) without worrying about fines - you must have a bear can along too though.
3) actively discourage sleeping with items at all cost.
Mark
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Postby krudler » Thu Mar 02, 2006 7:42 pm

I'm not necessarily taking a side in this debate, or agreeing with all of this (although, I do hate the can), but I stumbled across this at
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/bear_predation_jordan.html and it reminded me of this debate.
Enjoy:
---------------------------
Publisher's View: Bear Predation (Commentary)

Do bear canisters reflect poor management policy and only serve to increase bear tolerance of humans?


BY Ryan Jordan

Backpacking in the most remote areas of the United States (Yellowstone or Alaska) is a humbling experience: you are not at the top of the food chain.

Indeed, there is some (small) probability that you will be the object of predation by a grizzly bear.

Picture this: waking up to the sounds of huffing, snorting, growling, and jaw cracking of a bear ripping through your tent intent on eating you. After consciousness slips away, the bear will drag you some distance and feed on your body (often starting in your midsection). Then, you'll be covered in dirt as the bear guards the cache - you - by taking a nap on top.

This is nonfiction wilderness in its finest hour, no?

Ironically, there may be absolutely nothing you can do to avoid the encounter. Good camping, food handling, and storage practices probably help, but provide no insurance policy against either avoiding an encounter with a predatory bear, or surviving one. Sometimes, in predatory attacks, it is doubtful that even bear spray and powerful guns can be deployed in time to guarantee survival.

Are we sensationalizing the terror of bears in the backcountry? Ask the families of Timothy Treadwell, Amy Huegenard, Glenda Ann Bradley, Kathy Huffman, and Rich Huffman. The common denominator of their existence: they have all been eaten by predatory bears in the past few years.

California wilderness parks make for good case studies of controversial bear management practices. The storage of food in so-called bear-proof containers (while the hiker is encouraged to sit back 50 yards or more and be patient) trains bears to be persistent and further habituated to the odors of human food. YOSE officials believe that keeping your distance will result in a lack of human habituation - an interesting notion considering that the scent of a human - and its food - dominates a bear canister and its hiding location. Through generations of so called "no-reward" training (somewhat of a fallacy, in light of the fact that all food storage systems have been known to fail at some level), our bear canisters may unknowingly be contributing to the habituation of bears to human presence. When bears are no longer threatened by humans - or their food storage devices - the risk of predation may increase. Are YOSE and SEKI time bombs for bear predation? California bears already recognize cars and coolers as food sources. An increasing number of reports suggest that backcountry bears know darn well what's in food canisters. Is it simply a matter of time before a shift in the fragile ecological balance of California's wilderness results in a dramatic food shortage that sends bears searching for humans...as food? If bear predation can occur in GSMNP, it can certainly occur in California.

Another option: keep a night sentry armed with a can of bear spray to guard your "unprotected food" - giving any bear wanting an easy meal a blast in the eyes that will send it coughing and wheezing for an hour. Negative conditioning works. Grizzlies in Yellowstone and Alaska have been known to stop charging at the sight of someone holding up a can of bear spray - or the the sound of the spray exiting the can - without ever getting a taste of it - a sign that it has been sprayed before. Bears that have been sprayed multiple times by hunters in the Yellowstone area have been known to keep their distance from humans and avoid them readily. Much to the chagrin of agency managers in Montana National Parks and Wilderness areas, sleeping with your food - armed - is more common than they are willing to admit.

UDAP may have a better solution: a 3.7 lb backpackable electric fence that can be used to surround your camp and/or food. Again, the focus is on negative conditioning: providing punishment to the bear for seeking a human encounter. Negative conditioning may be the only way that predatory attacks on humans can be minimized. All the best management practices for food handling and camping won't deter a bear that wants a meal bad enough.

Or, maybe in 100 years, after black and grizzly bear populations have exploded, wilderness has dwindled, and climate changes shift food profiles, we may simply be asked by YOSE/SEKI officials to camp only in life sized canister tents provided by the park service.

Think about it: AMC Huts, California style.

Ryan Jordan is the publisher and co-founder of Backpacking Light Magazine. His 2005-06 slide show, "Grizzly Style", presents an honest and frank view of backcountry camping in grizzly bear country, discussing the discrepancies between real practice vs. mandated policy by land management agencies. In addition, Ryan discusses the practical limitations - and consequences - of existing bear management policies by Montana and California land management agencies, with particular attention paid to the policies of Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. The slide show closes with a testament to the Great Bear and why its preservation is valuable to the health of American Society. For information on booking "Grizzly Style" for an event, please Contact Ryan at BackpackingLight.com.

Citation:

"Publisher's View: Bear Predation (Commentary)," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364). http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin ... ordan.html, 10/12/2005.
"Krusty, you know Bette Midler?"
"Yeah we own a racehorse together - the Krudler!"
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oh dear

Postby gdurkee » Thu Mar 02, 2006 8:14 pm

Well, hard to decide where to start here. I'll go with Mark first:

A small side note, there are (according to their map anyway, though maybe you have more recent information) large areas in Yosemite you can still hang food. But that's semi-beside the point. I really don't know how many people sleep with their food. More than is good for any of us. I think the main thing here is that NPS & USFS can only do what they think is the most efficient and effective way of keeping food from bears. Then they (we...) provide the equipment (canisters, boxes, whatever); educate people on why it's a good idea; enforce it when people aren't open to education; and hope it all works.

It's my experience that most people go with the program. As a group, backpackers are pretty bright, want to do the right thing and, eventually, trainable. I have definitely not found it to be the case that the canister requirement encourages people sleeping with their food. Bears are darned bright and adaptable critters. Were it a significant number of people sleeping with food, the bears would find it long before the rangers and we'd be seeing many more injuries. As always, I could be wrong but....

As far as soap and stuff like that, I don't get too excited about it. I'd just leave it out on a log -- though I suppose a zealous ranger could cite you for it. Bears aren't that dumb to bite into soap more than once in their careers.

I think you're right that eventually canisters will be required in the areas you suggest. Maybe within 5 years, but I have no special knowledge or influence here.

Are YOSE and SEKI time bombs for bear predation? California bears already recognize cars and coolers as food sources. An increasing number of reports suggest that backcountry bears know darn well what's in food canisters. Is it simply a matter of time before a shift in the fragile ecological balance of California's wilderness results in a dramatic food shortage that sends bears searching for humans...as food? If bear predation can occur in GSMNP, it can certainly occur in California.


Now, on to that weird bear article. Don't know this guy's experience with bears. Grizzly and California black bears are two different critters. I can really only comment knowledgeably about California black bears. I think this is one of those 'straw man' arguments. Set up something based on false assumptions and justify it.

Something to remember is that, in 30+ years, I know of no fatalities from California (!!) black bears. Maybe a total of 50 (??) injuries in that time.

Whatever the canisters smell like, these bears learn ONLY whether they can break into them or not. It's a rare bear that bothers with a Garcia. On the whole, they're also leaving the Bearikades alone. They are, occasionally, still thumping on the Bear Vaults and, rarely, get in. This is all to say it has nothing to do with bears associating the canisters with food -- they do -- but with whether experience tells them they can get in.

Bears are already habituated to humans and have been for well over 100 years. I've just seen no evidence that they're becoming more aggressive or more likely to go after humans as prey. There have been cases in other states -- New Mexico -- this has happened. Not real sure what's different. Probably that there's a fairly good food supply available in the Sierra. Some bears do become a bit more testy in late August when they really need food and before berries etc. are out. But still, that seems only to be the case with a very few young ones.

My experience is that aversive conditioning has very limited success. Bears become afraid of rangers, for instance. As above though, NPS & USFS have to have practical solutions. I don't see us talking campers into all night guards with pepper spray wafting into the night.

There's more in that article that's marginal that's not worth dealing with. Maybe it's more right for grizzly, though I'm suspicious of that too.

OK. Hope this helps.

g.[/quote]
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Postby markskor » Sat Mar 04, 2006 7:10 pm

George,
This has been quite the civil debate, both entertaining and informative –
Interesting to be able to obtain (quite reasonable) observations from one truly on the inside – thanks Ranger Durkee.
The fact remains…I am hiking Tuolumne to Mammoth with my 13-year-old son this summer (7 days…Banner, 10000 Island,... fishing.) I carry one Bearikade – we will be spending the first night at that camp near the little bridge, half way up the hill to Donahue Pass –, under the trees.
All the important food will have been packed and secured – tightly - in the can, but…maybe a few items will be hung, back behind, in the trees.
I hope we can continue this “enlightened” discussion then, on the trail….
Mark
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Postby gdurkee » Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:36 pm

Mark:

The farther you can get up towards Donahue, the better. Bears go to that camp. So you might take that food way, way away and hang it off a tree or a big boulder. The best is if you can carry a 2nd canister to the Postpile, then send it back.

Have a great hike.

g.
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