New Forest Service rule requires bear–proof food storage in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen

A peaceful campsite along Officers Gulch Pond, formed when crews were building Interstate 70 through a narrow mountain canyon.
Campers in Colorado run the risk of encountering rummaging bears if they don’t store their food in bear-proof containers. @bberwyn photo.

Growing number of incidents prompts crackdown to protect bears and people

Staff Report

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service will try to protect both people and bears in the mountains around Aspen by requiring backcountry campers to store their food in hard-sided bear-proof containers.

The new regulation for the heavily visited 162,333 acre Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area on the White River National Forest comes after Forest Service rangers reported an increasing number of incidents involving humans and bears.

“Based on recent human/bear incidents in the heavily used Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, we are implementing this emergency special order requiring hard-sided bear-resistant food canisters for all overnight visitors,” Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer said in a press release.

Schroyer said too many visitors to the wilderness continue to store their food inside their tents, and that hanging food from tree branches hasn’t been effective.

“I hope that visitors will understand that this special order is being implemented for their own safety, the safety of others camping nearby and conservation of our bear population,” Schroyer said.

Under the new rule, all overnight hikers need to provide their own hard-sided containers approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which are readily available on-line from several manufacturers and retailers.

Over the past few years there have been multiple bear incidents within the Maroon Bells Wilderness. Incidents involved bears feeding on human food, buried garbage and other attractants such as cooking waste and toiletries when visitors to the wilderness were absent from camp or sleeping.

Once bears get a taste of human food, they often come back for more, raising the potential for dangerous encounters that usually end badly for the bears.

Bear-resistant containers containers for backpacking are available online and are also available in the Aspen area at many local shops, including Aspen Expeditions or Four Mountain Sports, at Aspen Highlands; Bristlecone Mountain Sports, Basalt; Factory Outdoors or Summit Canyon Mountaineering, Glenwood Springs; and Ute Mountaineering, Aspen.

Bear resistant food canisters can also be rented at the following local vendors: Aspen Expeditions and Ute Mountaineering.

Food storage is an integral part of bear management on White River National Forest and the Rocky Mountain Region. The Forest Service needs this order in place in order for visitors to effectively manage food, garbage and attractants in bear country.

Violators could be fined up to $5,000 ($10,000 for organizations) and even six months of prison time, although rangers can also choose to issue a warning and educate visitors about the dangers of improper food storage.

 

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