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395 Bear Troubles 2011-05-14

Black Bear

(NPS Photo)

There was a sad bear story in the news earlier this week. In 2007 a family was camping at an informal campsite on a dead end road in Utah. During the night a bear tore through the tent and carried away and mauled an eleven year old boy.

On the night before the attack, the bear had caused problems in the same area. Those campers notified the National Forest about the incident. The National Forest Service searched for the bear and were preparing to return the next day with a trap to capture him.

The bear returned to the camp that night and killed the boy.

The Federal Judge found the National Forest was negligent for not closing the area where the family camped and fined the Agency for close to two million dollars.

This indeed is a tragic story. I am not sure that the National Forest Service did anything other than their usual response. The National Forest is not the National Park Service.

The National Forest Service tries to manage the forest lands. They are responsible for huge tracts of land with little man power. When we go to a National Forest we know that the rules are different. You can camp almost anywhere you want. If you did camp somewhere illegally, the chances of being caught are so slim it is ridiculous. (By the by ... we always practice Leave No Trace Principles whether there is a chance of being caught or not.)

For example, Thursday, I hiked a 10 mile trail in the Smokies. During the hike I saw two Rangers, three Park workers, and even more Park employees in vehicles. In 2009 when we climbed the 54 14,000 foot peaks, we hiked over 600 miles and were out in the National Forest for over 50 days - we saw Forest Staff at only one location and they were building new campsites and a parking area at a trailhead.

The two agencies and the lands they manage are just different. If you want to camp, basically without rules, go to the National Forest; but if you need the restrictions and protection offered by the Park Rangers, then go to a National Park. I truly believe that this incident would have never occurred in a National Park - the Park would not even have allowed the tragic campers to camp in that location. The Park also has the staff to close the area or at least manage the initial incident differently.

This was a truly tragic incident. It is important to realize that camping in National Forest or just using the National Forest areas might require a higher degree of skills. If, for example, you do not know how to bear proof your campsite, there will not be a Ranger patrolling the camping area to help you. I don't know what the National Forest, under their current management plan could have done differently, but I do know what all campers and users must do. If you camp or use the Forest Lands, practice strict Leave No Trace Principles at all times. They require a different level of camping skills and might even take some of the fun away; but they also keep the bears away (with many other benefits also).

Protect yourself and your friends, companions, and loved ones. If you go to the National Forests, know the risks and practice good camping skills and LNT Principles. Don't teach bears bad habits. It is dangerous.

Not so happy trails.



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