LARAMIE, Wyoming, April 3, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service has delayed the implementation of a back country food storage plan it wished to establish in the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton national forests beginning April 1. The proposal came under intense political fire from the county commissioners in three Wyoming counties who see it as an extension of zones in which bears are encouraged.
At issue is keeping food away from bears that has been brought into the forest by humans - backpackers, outfitters, and hunters, including the animals they kill. Concerns extend to Scout and church group campouts. Even horse oats for horse packers are attractive to a grizzly bear. The humans may be many days travel out in the wilderness, or they may be camping one day in, a few miles from the end of the road.
In these forests it is common practice and in addition it is mandated that unattended food be maintained in a manner that makes it unavailable to bears.
Under the food storage rules, food is stored either in bear resistant containers, inside vehicles or hard sided trailers, or suspended at least 10 feet above the ground, and four feet from any tree or pole that a bear can climb.
Kim Barber, the grizzly bear biologist for the Shoshone National Forest, said that food storage orders are common in national forests all across the West and data shows that bears habituated to human food sources are bears that cause trouble.
"Last year, the Wyoming Game and Fish had to destroy 33 black bears, 22 of those were habituated to human food sources." Barber said. "It's not rocket science, a fed bear is a dead bear."
Eleven grizzlies were destroyed last summer, two of them within Fremont County, near the town of Dubois.
This conflict began on March 12, when Fremont County Commissioners rejected a plan imposed by Shoshone National Forest officials concerning the proper management of unattended foods on forest lands. The Fremont commissioners also drafted an ensuing resolution that outlawed the "existence, introduction, and reintroduction of wolves and grizzlies within Fremont County."
These two resolutions were attributable to the meeting held between Fremont County Commissioners and forest service officials from the Shoshone National Forest. The meeting was described as "heated and acrimonious," toward forest service officials.
County Commissioner Lanny Applegate contends that Fremont County and the town of Lander have no current problems with bears, either black bears or grizzly bears, and the forest service's food storage orders are overly restrictive and unnecessary.
Applegate believes that the real motivation is the expansion of grizzly habitat. "They [forest officials] are talking about black bears, but they're really getting ready for the expansion the grizzly bear range south into Fremont County, and we donšt want them here."
Since Fremont Commissioners passed their resolution, adjoining Sublette County also passed a resolution that rejects the food storage plan, and Lincoln County, with much of its lands in the Bridger-Teton Forest, has passed similar resolutions rejecting the food storage plan and outlawing grizzly bears and wolves.
Spokesperson for the neighboring Bridger-Teton National Forest, Jay Anderson, reiterated this theme of public safety. "The first thing we want to do is safeguard the public from human-food habituated bears, and the second is to stop the senseless destruction of bears, both black and grizzly bears, because they become habituated to human food."
U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent in charge of Wyoming, Dominic Domenici, contends that the resolutions passed by Fremont County and other Wyoming Counties are invalid, because wolves and grizzlies in the national forests are state and federal issues, and county commissioners cannot exclude them from state and federal lands.
In one interview he referred to the Fremont County resolutions as a "knee-jerk, free-men type attitude" to the situation.
"The commissioners can't enforce any of these resolutions. To enforce them would violate the law and the statutes that govern them as commissioners." Thomas said. "The irony here is that grizzlies and wolves already exist in Fremont County, The terrain in the Northern Wind River Mountains and the southern Absarokas are prime grizzly and wolf habitat."
Forest service officials say that during the course of the spring and summer they will work with recreationists, backcountry guides and outfitters to educate them on the proper handling of food in the backcountry. Also, the Forest Service wants to work with the communities surrounding the forests and push their message of separating bears from human foods around towns as well as in the wilderness.
Killing a grizzly bear in the lower 48 states is both a federal and state offense that can bring criminal and civil penalties of up to $50,000 and a year in jail. given an incentive, want to help preserve our environment."