Bear canisters now required for overnight trips in Desolation Wilderness

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) – An order is now in place to reduce negative human-bear interactions. The Lake Tahoe Forest Service is requiring bear canisters for overnight visitors heading to Desolation Wilderness.

“In recent years, the bears in Desolation Wilderness have become more aggressive in their search for food,” said Lisa Herron, public affairs specialist at Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

She says the current method of campers hanging a bear bag, has become less effective.

“These bears over the years have adapted to people hanging their food in trees and part of the reason, I think it’s because some people don’t know how to properly hang,” said Herron.

While the order doesn’t refer to specific incidents, the Forest Service said that in recent years as many as 10 parties a night have lost their food to bears at popular destinations like Lake Aloha and Gilmore Lake.

The new requirement aims to increase protection for visitors and wild bears.

A person who fights back or gets between the bear and food is risking bodily injury or death. In cases where a bear is known to repeatedly threaten or intimidate visitors, or cause injury, the bear may be euthanized.

When a bear gets human food, it creates a mess often tearing up packaging and leaving it scattered at campsites and along lakeshores. Sometimes bears eat the packaging along with the food.

“Rangers have observed food wrappers with bar codes in bear scat,” said Herron.

Experienced backpacker Martin Christian has been using bear canisters for eight years.

“Once I started using one, the convenience is just incredible,” said Christian. “I don’t think you realize that until you actually use it. You don’t have to tie and untie, you get used to the extra size and weight, it makes a great chair.”

“Definitely a good change,” said Jonah Hedeen on Facebook. “Definitely a useful piece of gear for backpacking trips. Yes, the added weight sucks but worth it when it comes to keeping humans and animals safe and having your food protected, and not going hungry while backpacking.”

While Christian and Hedeen agree with the rule and feel it was a long time coming, others are against it.

“I don’t like carrying them, I have before,” said Erick Asbury, who like Christian is an experienced backpacker. He says the canisters are bulky and not much of a necessity in the Tahoe Basin.

“Bears are smart and bears are going to go after the easy fix and those are dumpsters, and people that irresponsibly leave their trash cans out or food out,” he said.

Asbury thinks before starting enforcement in the DW, more should be done in the low elevation areas.

“The bears have learned to associate the presence of humans with food,” said Herron.

Violators are subject to a $5,000 fine. However, Herron says the rangers’ focus will be education rather than citation.

The order is in effect until July 2025.

The Tahoe Rim Trail Association rents out canisters. There’s a limited supply but the staff is working to add more. Rentals are free for members and $10 a day for non-members.

“We are in their territory, we have to respect wildlife,” said Lindsey Schultz, deputy director for the TRTA.

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