Yogi and Boo Boo may soon have to go back to Jellystone Park to steal picnic baskets, because Sawtooth National Recreation Area officials are proposing new food storage procedures in parts of the SNRA including campgrounds at Redfish Lake.
SNRA officials would phase in the new food storage regulations, beginning with public education, Ranger Kirk Flannigan told Custer County commissioners Monday. The goal is to minimize bear-human conflicts by requiring food be stored in bear-proof containers, in hard-sided vehicles or campers with closed windows or in Forest Service buildings.
Flannigan introduced new Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Jim DeMaagd and the two presented commissioners a draft copy of the proposed regulations. They asked the commissioners to review the proposal and submit comments by the end of April. Public comment will also be sought.
There were about 20 bear-human incidents on the SNRA in 2017 related to food, according to the draft bear food storage proposal. Idaho Fish and Game officers shot and killed two bears in the Ketchum area after they became habituated and dangerous to people. In the past bears have fed on human food, trash and smelly stuff like cooking waste and human hygiene products, mostly when visitors were sleeping or absent from their camps. Bears are attracted to hunters’ animal carcasses, hay cubes, grain and stock feed, even alfalfa hay. A few incidents of forest visitors intentionally feeding bears have also been documented.
Seventy percent of all bear-human conflicts in the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Salmon region in 2017 were on the SNRA. Between 2006 and 2016, 80 percent of bear-human conflicts were on the SNRA, with the number of incidents ranging from two to 15 a year.
In rare cases, Sawtooth National Recreation Area visitors have been injured by bears, according to forest officials. After the bears become dangerous they are often euthanized.
A food storage order would allow for effective management of “food, garbage and attractants in bear country and reduce bear-human encounters,” according to the draft proposal.
“Food storage practices are necessary to protect both humans and bears. Humans would be protected by reducing conflicts with bears. Bears would be protected by minimizing habituation and possible destruction of problem animals.”
Forest officials propose that local vendors in Sawtooth and Wood River valleys rent or sell bear-proof food storage and garbage containers.
If approved, the food storage order would be phased in during the next two years. he regulations would be in effect during the busy camping season, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The proposal would not affect hunters or hunting seasons, according to Flannigan. The three wilderness areas with boundaries overlapping the SNRA would be exempted: Sawtooth Wilderness, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness and Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness.
The Forest Service plans to publicize the proposal during a public comment period later this spring. Education precedes enforcement, with seasonal and year-round employees making educational and compliance contacts with the public.