Bear hunters to aid wildlife scientists

Increased bear sightings in Vermont have prompted wildlife officials to urge caution when storing or disposing food waste.

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MANCHESTER — Forest Service officials in Vermont announced Friday that they have had several reports of bear sightings, bears approaching and entering shelters and some reports of bears aggressively getting into backpacks in an attempt to find food. Bear sighting were numerous throughout the months of June and July. This week the agency began posting alert notices at trail shelters and at developed campsites to notify recreation users about the recent spike in bear activity on the Manchester Ranger District of the Green Mountain National Forest.

Reports of human encounters with black bears continue to increase across the Green Mountain National Forest. While many visitors and campers never encounter a bear, bears can quickly become habituated to human food and waste. It is vital that people recreating on the Forest keep a clean campsite to ensure that bears and other animals don’t forage for their food, the Forest Service said in a release. Be sure to properly store all food, and odorous items including toothpaste, condiments such as ketchup and mustard, food wrappers, pet food, and anything else that may attract bears. Improperly stored food not only attracts bears to people currently camping at a site, but it lets the bear know that it can find food at that campsite in the future. The bear may return to the site when other families are recreating there.

“We’ve had several reports of bear activity this year, especially around the Somerset area,” said Manchester District Ranger Martina Barnes in the release. “For now, the campsite in the area has remained open, but we are counting on visitors to be diligent with their food storage. We prefer not to close recreation sites; however, if bear encounters continue or increase, we will need to for the safety of the public. Awareness and proper food storage makes a world of difference.”

It is illegal in Vermont to feed bears. The Green Mountain National Forest Food Storage Regulation requires visitors to store unattended food in bear-resistant containers, in a vehicle, or suspend food at least 12 feet off the ground and not less than 6 feet horizontally from any object. In addition, all refuse containing food materials or containers must be deposited in receptacles provided for that purpose, removed from the Green Mountain National Forest to be disposed of properly, or stored in the manner prescribed for food.

Bears are meant to be wild, and access to human food sources creates negative consequences for them. Bears that get too used to people may eventually have to be killed to ensure human safety, according to the release. Following safe food storage practices protects both visitors and the bears. All recreationists have a responsibility to ensure their own safety and that of future campers by not purposefully or inadvertently feeding bears. Given this, remember:

• Always keep a clean camp.

• Don’t leave any food (including condiments and pet food) out when not in use.

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• Store food in bear-resistant units, hard-shelled vehicles or car trunks.

• Keep sleeping areas, tents, and sleeping bags free of food and odor (like toothpaste or deodorant).

• Don’t sleep in clothes you cooked or handled fish or game in.

• Never bury or burn food waste.

• If camping in the backcountry, hang your food bag at least 12 feet off the ground and 6 feet out from a tree limb that could support a bear, or better yet, pack and use bear resistant containers.

• If possible, in backcountry areas, place sleeping tents at least 100 yards away from food storage and cooking areas.

People should report bear sightings or damage caused by bears to their nearest Vermont Fish & Wildlife office at 802-828-1000 or a local Vermont State Game Warden at 802-442-5421 prior to taking any control action on their own. Vermont Fish & Wildlife personnel will recommend appropriate measures or control strategies that can alleviate bear related problems.