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Prettyman: Keeping a clean camp is key to saving bears

Published August 22, 2013 3:38 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Nothing changes the mood of campers as quickly as the word "bear."

It happened at the Spruces Campground in late July during what has become an annual family and friends gathering organized by my mother.

The campground hosts pulled up in a golf cart right at dusk. Someone in our group went to meet them and came back with a worried look on her face.

"There was a bear sighting in the campground," she said. "We need to be extra diligent about putting food or anything that smells like food in the cars and make sure nothing that would attract a bear is in our tents."

Whether we are camping in Yellowstone or Zion national parks, my family treats every site like it is bear country and takes all the proper precautions to protect the bear. Yes, the bear.

You have heard the saying "a fed bear is a dead bear," and it is true. Once a bear has developed a taste for human food, it becomes a serious threat to people and will be lethally removed by wildlife officials.

Two black bears already have been killed at a Boy Scout camp in the Uinta Mountains this summer because of food being left out. This is after wildlife officials had attempted to educate people at the camp about camping in bear country.

People in Utah, despite warnings in the campgrounds and words of caution from camp hosts, seemingly can't fathom that bears live where they set up a tent. This is particularly true along the Wasatch Front.

As a result, they treat the campsite like their backyard in West Jordan, Ogden or Provo, leaving coolers, barbecues, food boxes, stoves and trash bags out around the clock.

It is a recipe for disaster with possible fatal implications for people and the virtually guaranteed destruction of the bear.

Even if you keep a clean camp, a dangerous situation can happen because people who previously stayed in the site may have accidentally or ignorantly provided a bear with a food reward.

Bears, like all animals, remember food sources. They return again and again looking for possible nutrients. If they can't find it, they may be enticed into doing something more desperate to fill their stomach.

I believe this is partially what happened with the Sam Ives incident in American Fork Canyon in 2007. Previous campers in an undeveloped campsite had ignored the fact they were in bear country and created a possibly fatal environment which, unfortunately, came to fruition. So even if a campsite does feel like your backyard, remember that all of Utah is potential bear country. Keep a clean camp because it really is the home of bears. We are just visitors.

I talked to the Spruces Campground host the next day, and she said there indeed was a sighting. People in one of the large group sites spotted a sow and a cub far up on the hillside.

That's a little different than the bear eyeing the KFC on the picnic table I had imagined the night before, but it still was a bear sighting.

"The first one we have had here in 20 years," the host said.

But certainly not the first time one had been near the campground and quite definitely not the last.


Twitter: @BrettPrettyman —