White River National Forest aggressive on bear-proof measures
The White River National Forest has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past seven years buying and installing bear-proof food and trash containers at its campgrounds, but an incident in the Fryingpan Valley last week proved that not all campers are using them.
The national forest spent nearly $126,000 in the last three years alone for “bear boxes” in its campgrounds, according to reimbursement agreements with the concessionaire that operates its campgrounds. Most of the bear boxes were installed in campgrounds in the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Crystal river valleys.
The metal containers are anchored to a pedestal and have special latches that bears cannot master. They cost about $900 apiece. Installation is extra. The supervisor’s office also has approved funds for bear-proof dumpsters at the campgrounds.
Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, applauded the White River National Forest’s efforts to educate campers and provide them with the bear boxes.
“They’ve made a great effort,” Will said.
The Forest Service started installing bear boxes late in the late 2000s in campgrounds where there had been bear issues. Difficult Campground, 4 miles east of Aspen, was one of the first to receive the special containers. The installation of bear boxes was completed in 2013.
The agency started adding boxes at Chapman Campground in the upper Fryingpan Valley in 2010. It’s one of the agency’s largest campgrounds in the area.
The total number of bear boxes installed in campgrounds in the Aspen-Sopris District over the past eight years wasn’t available from the Forest Service. In the past three years, at least 76 bear boxes were purchased and installed. Scores more were installed in prior years.
All campgrounds in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger Districrt have at least some bear boxes except Portal, on Grizzly Reservoir east of Aspen, and Elk Wallow, in the Fryingpan Valley.
Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said it’s incumbent on government to give people the tools they need to comply with laws and rules. The forest didn’t want to pass rules requiring proper storage of food and trash without providing bear boxes. He estimated that roughly 75 percent of sites have a bear box in the campgrounds. In some cases, sites have to share boxes.
A five-year special order has been in place since 2014 requiring proper storage of food in the Aspen-Sopris, Holy Cross, Rifle and Blanco ranger districts. As drafted, campers who violate the order by not storing food and trash in bear-proof containers or in the trunks of vehicles can be fined up to $5,000. The standard fine for a first offense is $125, according to the agency.
Compliance has gotten better with time. In some cases, people have been visiting the same campgrounds for decades and never experienced problems, Fitzwilliams noted. They need to be educated on the new rules.
“I think it’s getting better,” he said. “It’s an awareness issue.”
The latest installation was completed in May at the Mollie B and Dearhamer campgrounds, which are part of the Ruedi Reservoir complex. The agency said that 38 boxes that were purchased in 2014 and stored for the winter were installed this spring at a cost of $5,677. Twenty boxes went to Mollie B, and all 13 sites at Dearhamer received a container. Three leftovers went to Chapman Campground.
Despite the presence of the bear boxes, a Denver couple camping with their 1-year-old child didn’t use the containers Wednesday morning at Dearhamer. A bear clawed its way into the family tent and bit the man’s forearm before he freed himself and chased it off. He had puncture wounds and was treated and released from Valley View Hospital.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife sent an officer to the site and found food and freshly caught fish in coolers as well as food and trash around the camp, according to a statement by the agency. Only a bag of potato chips was in the bear box, the agency said. Small amounts of food also were in the tent at the time of the attack at about 3:30 a.m.
There was bear activity in the area the prior week. Fryingpan Valley resident Glenn Silva said a large bear was “munching” on an elk calf carcass about 1 mile away from Dearhamer.
The Forest Service posts information where campers pay for their sites warning people about the presence of bears and advising them to store food and trash property. Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer said campground hosts give campers a verbal notice to use the bear boxes. Hosts live at the major campgrounds throughout the summer.
Fitzwilliams said there hadn’t been bear issues at Dearhamer before. The Forest Service determined that its signage wasn’t adequate and that the host wasn’t stressing compliance, so it decided against giving the man who suffered the bite a ticket.
The idea of a fine is to alter future behavior, Will noted. He figured the man learned a lesson from the incident.
“I bet his future behavior will be changed,” Will said.
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