Friday, August 13, 2010

Beware of bears

Animals are regular visitors to Redfish area


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Black bears, such as the one shown above in an undated Fish and Game photo, have been regular visitors to the Redfish Lake area this summer. The smell of barbecues and easy access to coolers have drawn hungry bears down into the campgrounds in the area. Courtesy photo.

A bear killed at Redfish Lake Lodge south of Stanley last Saturday is perhaps the lodge's most recently notorious visitor, but bears are regular visitors there.

"They hang out at night," said Emily Engelhardt, an employee at the lodge. "They just kind of wander through the garbage cans."

Redfish Lake is a prime bear-gathering spot because of the sheer number of people who camp and barbecue at the lake, said Bret Stansberry, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

"There's such a concentration of people and good smells," Stansberry said. "Every summer, we've got bear issues there."

Engelhardt said there have been three sightings so far this season, which she said seemed to start a little earlier than normal. Bears at the lodge in mid to late August are not unusual, though typically they do not appear during the day.

Bears that intrude on campgrounds and are not aggressive are not normally killed, said Jim Lukens, regional supervisor for Fish and Game's Salmon Region.

"There's a whole box full of tools we can use on non-aggressive bears," Lukens said.

For non-aggressive bears, conservation officers will set a live trap and relocate the animal. But if the bear is aggressive, trap-shy or refuses to leave the area, that's a different story.

"I have zero tolerance for aggressive bears," Lukens said. "I'm not going to take the risk of someone being injured."

Stansberry said that normally the trigger point is if the bear does not show fear of people.

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"When it's obviously being more aggressive than your normal campground bear, that's when we make that decision," he said.

Bears simply wandering the area are typically left alone, but the bear killed Saturday bear bluff-charged a person at the lodge and attempted to break into a tent. Complicating the situation was the number of people at the nearby visitor's center for a Smokey the Bear birthday celebration.

Fortunately, the bear had wandered away from populated areas and up a hill behind the lodge before being shot by the conservation officer.

"We do the best we can not to dispatch a bear right in the middle of a campground," Lukens said.

Bear season isn't over yet, and Engelhardt, Lukens and Stansberry agreed that recreationists should do their best to keep clean campsites to reduce the risk of problems.

Engelhardt recommended putting all trash in bear-proof dumpsters and locking coolers in vehicles, though Lukens said that bears have been known to break into cars in an attempt to get at food inside.

Above all, campers should not attempt to feed the bears, Lukens said.

Stansberry also warned against throwing food items into campfires or barbecues, which can release scents that draw bears to the area.

"When a bear starts to get into the coolers or garbage and gets rewarded, that's when it becomes a problem," he said.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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