Bear Safety Tips – Food Storage

By Becky Lewis

Spring is the time when bears emerge from their winter dens and families once again are exploring the parks and forests. May is “Be Bear Aware and Wildlife Stewardship” month so it is the perfect time to remind Island Park residents, visitors, and tourists how to safely and responsibly live and recreate in bear habitat.

Properly Store All Food and Bear Attractants

Proper food storage is required on forest service lands throughout the Ashton/Island Park, Dubois (east of I-15), and the Teton Basin Ranger Districts per the Caribou-Targhee National Forest Order #04-15-117. The purpose of this order is “to reduce grizzly bear and human encounters and conflicts thereby providing for user safety and the protection of the grizzly bear.” Island Park is home to both black bears and grizzly bears. Although the order specifically references grizzly bears, black bears are also attracted to food sources; so, proper food storage also reduces conflicts with black bears. The order is in effect annually from March 1 through December 1.

bear eating stolen food

Bears are extremely food oriented and have a great sense of smell; which means that bear attractants are basically anything that has a scent. Bear attractants include beverages, food, coolers, dishes/pots/pans, garbage, toiletries, pet food, and fish/game. To satisfy the food storage order, all bear attractants must be secured and made unavailable to bears when persons are away from their residence/cabin/tent/RV and at night when they are asleep. The Food Storage Order does not apply to residences except those on forest service land, such as the lease cabins at Big Springs, Moose Creek, and Buffalo.

Unattended attractants must be stored in a bear box with carabiners attached, in a bear-resistant cooler with padlocks, inside an RV, inside a fully-enclosed utility trailer, cab of a truck, under a truck topper with windows and hatch closed, or inside a car with a hardtop. Violations of the food storage order can result in a fine of up to $180.

The USFS has implemented a Campground Bear Safety program to educate campers in the Ashton-Island Park Ranger District campgrounds about proper food storage.

Becky is an Idaho Master Naturalist who lives in Ashton, ID. She volunteers in the USFS Campground Bear Safety program, at the IDFG Bear Education Trailer, the Bear Safe Island Park project, and has obtained grant funding for Bear Spray Giveaway Events.