Woman hits curious bear with flashlight
A woman sleeping at a Mirror Lake campground hit a bear with a flashlight to drive it out of her tent sometime around 2 a.m on July 25. The bear had stuck its head in her tent, presumably following a scent of food, when it surprised the woman who reacted by pummeling it with the light.
The bear scurried off and left the woman unharmed, according to Bruce Johnson of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Sources could not disclose further information about either the woman or the bear. No damage was done and the bear has not been seen since. The bear, however, might have gotten into a pile of diapers.
Johnson and other officials were not informed of the sighting until the next morning when the woman reported what had happened to the campground host. Within a matter of hours that particular area was closed and the DWR sent out hounds and set up bear traps to catch the animal. The traps all held bait similar to the materials that attracted the bear to the campground.
The hounds were unable to track the bear, nor did any of the traps catch it. For the DWR, said Johnson, the major concern was that the bear had become habituated to humans and their food, but since it has not returned, its visit might have been an isolated incident. Randy Wood, also of the DWR speculated that it was probably a young bear, away from its mother, that got curious. The fact that it has not returned indicated to Wood that it may have learned its lesson.
Both Wood and Johnson agree that this season bears have not been nearly as problematic as last summer. Most of the sightings, said Wood, were relatively routine instances of people catching glimpses of bears out on the trail or in their cars. "I didn’t really know what to expect after last year," said Wood.
The lack of activity might have something to do with the wet winter that watered foliage and led to prolific plant growth. A good berry season is also expected. Like humans, illustrated Wood, bears just want to eat with minimal effort. Easily accessible natural foods work fine, but available human food is just as good.
The key to bear safety, according to both Wood and Johnson, is a clean campsite. Even the faintest smell of food or perfumed product can be attractive to a bear than can smell those materials from a mile away.
Cleanliness, in this instance, means that campers should properly store all of their food in a bear-safe location. They should also sweep their campsite for any food trash and change their clothes after cooking. Dog food and hummingbird feeders are very attractive to bears and should be left at home, or properly secured like everything else. Even trash should be placed in bear-safe receptacles, now available in Mirror Lake.
Loyal Clark of the U.S. Forest Service characterized bears as "very curious creatures" and added that people should give them no reason at all to investigate campsites. Bears spend more time near human campsites than we might think said Wood, but as long as campsites are clean of foods, they’ll probably stay away.
One key, said Clark, is simply to stay cognizant of surroundings at all times. Sweep campsites for food during arrival and always ask questions of fellow campers and read signs. If an area is prone to bear visits, some signage is probably available.
The DWR keeps a Web site with further details on bear safety. For more information, visit wildlife.utah.gov/news/08-06/bear_safety.php.
Wood and the DWR have several programs in place to monitor the movement and population of bears in Utah.
One of their primary studies is to place radio collars on bears and follow the bears to their dens as a means of estimating population. Trapping the bears to place the collars on them can be a major procedure and the study is on-going in Northern Utah.
Locally, the DWR harvests samples of bear DNA through collections of hairs and other materials to get an idea of their population patterns. One DWR employee has a collection spot not far from Kamas.
The DWR also counts on information from houndsmen who use their dogs to tree bears and report their findings to the DWR. Typically the houndsmen are able to report the number of bears that they encounter.
For those who stumble upon a bear, said Wood, the key is to address them the same way one would treat a person. Allow them their personal space. Like people, bears need to room to breathe and when they are encroached upon, they can react unfavorably and in a defensive manner.
People are too quick, he continued, to run to spots where bears have been sighted to try and catch a glimpse. It is much wiser, instead, to stay away from those sites. Those who are fortunate enough to see a bear should enjoy the opportunity and then leave plenty of space between themselves and the bear as they back away. "Feel lucky if you got to see one, then avoid it," said Wood.
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