Officers hunt black bear in the Uintas | ParkRecord.com

Officers hunt black bear in the Uintas

Patrick ParkinsonOf the Record staff

By storing food inside their vehicles and not eating inside their tents a group of girls camping in the Uinta Mountains this week hoped to avoid a black bear that forced rangers to close the popular Ledgefork campground east of Oakley.

"They gave us a handout," explained Santana Burton, a 12-year-old from Salt Lake City who spent the night in the mountains near where the problem bear was spotted.

Since then the kids have made as much noise as possible.

Staying safe in bear county means making noise so the bear standing on the trail around the corner isn’t startled by hikers, experts say.

"We’ve been a little concerned. No food is in the girls’ tents," said Salt Lake City resident Jennifer Warner, who supervised Burton and her friends in the Uintas last week.

But as of Friday a black bear that officers say ate from garbage cans at Ledgefork hadn’t been captured inside traps set for the animal.

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"We believe this bear tried to get into a cabin," said Bruce Johnson, a conservation officer with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

When the bear got a paw into the cabin someone inside "slammed a window down on it," Johnson said adding that the black bear near Smith and Morehouse reservoir has become a serious nuisance.

"Bears are here just like cougars and moose," the officer said, lamenting that "the problem interactions start with humans who don’t pick up their garbage. We have created a major bear problem because of a human who did something foolish."

‘A fed bear is a dead bear’

Never feed a bear, wildlife biologists warn. Many times bears that visit campsites are destroyed when they threaten people.

"Take care of your garbage, take care of your food. We have a saying in the bear business, ‘A fed bear is a dead bear,’" said Kamas resident Jordan Pederson, who studies black bears in the Uinta Mountains. "They spend half their life sleeping and they spend half their life looking or food so they can spend the other half sleeping."

Pederson’s four-year bear study has identified 27 different black bears in Summit County.

"Any of these mountains contain black bears and so that’s why we preach, take care of your food, put it away, lock it up," Pederson said. "Don’t leave grills out. Don’t leave ice chests out."

Recent bear scares in Utah culminated June 17 when a black bear killed an 11-year-old boy in American Fork Canyon after ripping the screaming child from his tent in the night. The bear was killed the next day by hired hunters who shot it in the neck.

"Statewide, we’re down on precipitation, and that is usually the key," Pederson said. "[Bears] have to range far and wide when they don’t get the precipitation and the natural vegetation."

Vegetation like berries, comprise 80 percent of a black bear’s diet, he said, calling the animals "opportunistic predators."

Attacks in Utah are rare

"Generally [bears] try to stay away from people," said Cathy Kahlow, the U.S. Forest Service district ranger in Kamas, adding that attacks like the one in Utah County are unusual.

But "each year we deal with some sort of bear activity," she acknowledged.

"The bear was frequenting the (Ledgefork) campground," Kahlow said about the current closure.

Campers, however, haven’t canceled reservations, she insisted.

"It’s a problem for the public and a problem for us, but it’s better to be cautious," Kahlow said. "People have been seeing bears more than they should lately."

Now grease and pieces of cooked bacon sit inside two large traps at Ledgefork meant to detain a bear should it take the bait.

"We’re not here just to kill a bear," Johnson said. "Just because a bear’s seen doesn’t mean it deserves to be darted and relocated."