When it comes to using food storage lockers and bear-resistant waste receptacles, we are generally considering the safety and welfare of the humans who are involved. In reality, using these products is equally important in terms of keeping bears safe. In fact, failure to store food and dispose of waste properly can become a matter of life or death for bears. Here is a look at why proper storage is so essential for bears.
Becoming Too Comfortable with Humans
When human food and food waste is left in an area where bears can access it, the bears quickly realize where they can go to obtain the human food. Returning to these areas to eat human food is bad for bears because they soon lose their preference for natural food sources. Over time, they may start to approach people in search of food and they may become increasingly aggressive, unpredictable and dangerous. This puts these bears at risk for being euthanized due to the threat they pose for people. These bears are also more likely to be hit by cars or to become easy targets for poachers. For all of these reasons, studies have shown that bears who lose their fear of humans have a shorter life expectancy than those that feed on natural foods and are afraid of people.
Choosing the Wrong Foods
In addition to causing them to lose their fear of humans, bears who eat human food may not get the proper nutrition they need to survive. In some cases, they may eat things that put them at risk for illness or even death. This is because bears have a strong sense of smell that helps them to find food. Unfortunately, things they consider to be food may include soaps, toiletries, cosmetics, bug repellant, sunscreen, and fuel. They may also eat bottles and cans in which food or other scented items were stored. Therefore, all of these items must be stored properly when in use and must be disposed of properly so the bears cannot retrieve the items and ingest them.
Storing Food and Waste
Depending on where you are traveling, certain requirements may be in place regarding food storage and the disposal of waste. For example, some parks require food lockers and bear-resistant food containers to be used when bringing food into the park. Regardless of the regulations that are in place, you should always use the following minimum precautions when in picnic areas and campgrounds:
- All food, scented items and refuse should be secured immediately upon arriving at the campsite.
- Keep food in arm’s reach and never turn your back on the food.
- Wash dirty dishes immediately after use.
- Never store food in your tent or in a backpack.
- If food is allowed to be stored in the car, it should always be stored out of sight with the windows closed and only during daylight hours. It should never be strapped to the outside of a vehicle or stored in the bed of a pickup truck.
- Do not burn organic matter such as excess food, coffee grounds or tea bags in a campfire. This type of matter requires a very hot fire to burn and partially burned matter will draw wildlife to your camp.