Amid uptick in bear encounters, Superior National Forest enacts new food storage order

A black bear climbs a tree in downtown Duluth on May 6, 2015.
A black bear climbs a tree in Duluth in 2015.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News 2015

Officials in northern Minnesota's Superior National Forest say they're seeing an uptick in bear encounters this summer — so they're requiring visitors to follow food-storage rules.

The increased number of encounters include bears stealing backpacks, or digging in trash bins. Officials say the new food storage order is a proactive step intended to keep both people and bears safe.

"We finalized a new bear action plan this year which calls for more systematic reporting, so we probably have more reports being submitted, but this by itself doesn’t account for the increase," Superior National Forest wildlife biologist Cheron Ferland said in a news release. "It’s also because there are more visitors on the landscape and the fact that we are in an extreme drought, which has led to a poor berry crop."

"This is bear country, people are going to see black bears. They live here. That’s not concerning to me," Ferland said. "But bears at dumpsters, lingering at campsites and stealing packs is. Once they get a reward, or food, they will keep doing whatever it takes to get that reward again."

As of last Friday, what had been longstanding food storage recommendations are now required in the Superior National Forest — including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

"The food storage order requires visitors to properly store food unless in the process of eating, preparing or transporting food," officials said.

Proper storage can be using a bear canister or bear-resistant container, and placing it 50 feet away from a tent — the preferred method, officials said.

Or it can involve hanging a food pack at least 12 feet off the ground, 6 feet horizontally from any pole or tree limb, and 4 feet vertically from any pole or limb.

Other tips include:

  • Making sure anything with a scent is properly stored — such as toothpaste, wrappers, lip balm, soap, petroleum products and lotion

  • Disposing of fish remains at least 200 feet from any campsite, portage, trail or shoreline

  • Packing out cooking grease — or bringing foods that do not create grease

  • Packing out all food scraps, including fruit and vegetable scraps

  • Packing only the food you need for your trip.

  • If dumpsters are full, take your garbage out with you

  • Having bear spray on hand

Forest Service officials said there have been several locations with recurring bear sightings and interactions:

  • Gunflint Ranger District: Rose Lake, Duncan Lake and Daniels Lake

  • Kawishiwi Ranger District: Moose Lake Chain and several campgrounds including Birch Lake, Fall Lake and Fenske Lake

  • La Croix District: Agnes Lake

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