Thursday, November 20, 2014

Prevent hungry bears from breaking into your vehicle while family is out on a hike

A bear breaks into a vehicle with improperly stored food at Sequoia National
Park. Photo courtesy of Sequoia NPS.
Leave food in your vehicle when day hiking, and upon returning you may find some windows smashed, doors dented, and seats ripped.

No, the culprit isn’t a hungry teenager looking for snacks. It’s a bear – a creature you don’t want to meet face to face or when it’s stuck in the back seat.

Common in the mountains and forests of the West, bears are growing in population and advancing south through the wooded areas of the Upper Midwest. Though you almost never have to worry about running into a bear on a hike, your vehicle may not be so lucky.

Bears have such a strong sense of smell – about a hundred times more powerful than a dog’s – that they can detect food in your parked vehicle, even if your trail mix and picnic lunch are in containers. With their strength and willpower, bears will have no trouble getting into your vehicle, though they’re a little messy in the way they go about it. In short, food in your vehicle screams “Lunch wagon!” to a bear.

To avoid a bear break-in, follow these basic guidelines:
g Leave the food at home – If you’re not going to carry it in your backpack, then don’t bring it all. Should you consume food along the way, make sure the trash disposed of before you reach the trailhead.
g Use the bear box – Should you still have food at the trailhead, use the bear-proof food locker if one is nearby (Usually they are in areas where bears are known to break into vehicles). Made of steel, bears can’t open these containers.
g Dispense with the coolers – Especially in national and state parks, some bears have learned that food coolers may contain goodies. They’ll then break into a vehicle just to see if their hunch is right (and they usually don’t leave any leftovers if they are).
g Don’t toss food scraps on the trail – Once bears come across human food, they’ll give it a try. They’ll probably like it. That means on future trips that you or other hikers take in the area, bears are more likely to break into vehicles if they smell those same delectables locked inside.

Should you come across a bear who’s taken your food, don’t try to get it back. The bear will fight to keep your loaf of bread and granola bars. And the bear will win.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.