Dangers and precautions of recreating in Bear Country

Idaho Falls

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Island Park, Idaho is included in the grizzly bear recovery zone as part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. There are an estimated 1,000 grizzlies in the ecosystem, which includes portions of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. | Kris Millgate, www.tightlinemedia.com

ISLAND PARK — There’s plenty of daylight left for hiking and mountain biking. The fishing is still fantastic and hunting is about to heat up. There are all kinds of reasons to keep recreating until the snow flies. There’s only one reason to carry a can of spray when you go. Grizzlies.

The endangered animal is hovering around a population of 1,000 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park plus portions of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The top-of-the-food-chain beast doesn’t go to ground for winter hibernation until November.

“Anywhere you go within 100 miles of Yellowstone National Parks is grizzly bear country,” says Chuck Bartlebaugh, Be Bear Aware campaign director. “You should carry bear spray.”

Bartlebaugh urges people to carry bear spray and know how to use it. From spraying downward and out to form a cloud when the bear is 60 feet away to spraying directly into attack space when a bear knocks you down.

“When the bear enters the cloud, it will feel the effects of the active ingredients on its mouth, throat and lungs displacing oxygen to heart and muscles and stopping its ability to woof and growl at you,” Bartlebaugh says. “Gets in its eyes and it can’t focus on where you are and it loses track of where its target is.”

Avoiding a run in is even better than defending during an attack. Clean camps are the best way to deter unwanted bear attention. Scented items such as food and even toothpaste should stay in vehicles or be locked in bear proof storage bins.

“The old saying, a fed bear is a dead bear is very true,” says Scott Christensen, Greater Yellowstone Coalition director of conservation. “Bears that get into coolers and garbage figure out that that’s an easy food source then they get into trouble.”

Christensen doesn’t want trouble. That’s why the Greater Yellowstone Coalition is probably spending more time in campgrounds than you and you’ll know it the next time you camp.

There are 164 Forest Service campgrounds in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Over the last three years, GYC improved 103 of those campgrounds by installing bear-proof storage bins and garbage containers. The coalition plans to covert all 164 camps by the end of 2017.

“Public campgrounds are usually the first entry point for visitors in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Christensen says. “People from around the country visit and most of them are from places without grizzlies. We want campgrounds to be places that are safe for people and bears.”

Outdoor journalist Kris Millgate is based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. See her work at www.tightlinemedia.com.

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