Many Montanans unaccustomed to recreating in grizzly bear country may be caught unprepared by the food storage orders in effect on U.S. Forest Service lands including the Flathead, Lolo, Lewis and Clark, and Helena National Forests and others.
Recreating in grizzly bear country today requires good planning around the foods you choose to bring on your trip, how you plan to store that food and your garbage.
USFS food storage restrictions are for the public's safety and help aid grizzly bear recovery by preventing bears from becoming food-habituated.
Bold signs warn of these food storage orders in some areas and in others the requirements are less visible. Bottom line, all food and garbage, including pet and livestock food, must be suspended 10 feet from the bottom of the item and four feet out from any support, or stored in a hard-sided camper, vehicle trunk, cab, enclosed horse trailer, or in an approved bear resistant container. The usual cooler or plastic storage box is not bear resistant and food stored in them must be attended at all times by an adult or surrounded by an electric fence that meets the specifications of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
So how does the average person get with the program and find bear resistant products?
"There is a small industry growing up around supplying bear resistant food storage," said Patti Sowka, FWP's Wildlife Center manager in Helena. Sowka worked with several government officials and other experts to develop testing protocols for products to be used on private land in bear country. The protocols are similar to those used by state and federal officials to certify products for use on public lands.
"Testing with real grizzly bears in a controlled setting ensures that when people pay for a bear resistant product they get something that is bear resistant," Sowka said.
All bear resistant testing in Montana is done with grizzly bears. For example, Sowka works with the West Yellowstone Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center to test products.
Sowka said that the testing protocols and process are being refined with the user in mind. However, at this time products suitable for use on private lands may not fully meet the USFS guidelines for use on public lands.
For details on USFS food storage orders contact your local Ranger District Office, or check the website for the forest you plan to visit. For example, the Flathead National Forest has its food order posted at www.fs.fed.us/r1/flathead/wildlife/grizzly_bears_index.shtml .
Products for use on public lands are certified by the IGBC as bear resistant and are listed on the IGBC web site at http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/wildlife/igbc/ . Additional products tested for use on private land are listed on the Living With Wildlife Foundation web site at www.lwwf.org .
For a complete guide to living in bear country see the FWP web site at fwp.mt.gov and click on Be Bear Aware.