Doughnuts, bologna, leftover barbecue, even shoes have made snacks for hungry black bears this summer.
The bears are on the prowl in Panhandle campgrounds, sinking their teeth into anything campers leave lying around.
“You can’t have a speck of stinking garbage around right now because they are all over it,” said Debbie Wilkins, a recreation forester at Priest Lake.
“It’s hard to blame them when they can easily get food from a little bit of effort.”
Most of the troublesome bears are turning up at Priest Lake. Last week, one pawed its way into an empty tent to swipe a box of doughnuts. One roaming for goodies near Coolin was hit by a car and injured so badly it had to be destroyed.
Another bear was spotted getting an aerobic workout jumping up and down on the garbage can outside the Priest Lake Ranger Station.
Part of the problem is that wet weather has slowed ripening berry bushes, so bears are after easily gotten grub. Also, wildlife biologist say, there are just more bears out there this year.
Stricter hunting regulations have swollen the bear population, and more people are moving into rural areas, encroaching on wildlife.
The results will be more human-bear encounters, predicted Jim Hayden, a regional wildlife manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“We’ve had a lot of bear sightings this year and complaints from people about bears getting into garbage,” he said. “But when you move into the bears’ back yard, you have to expect to see one every now and then.”
Hayden estimated 3,000 to 4,000 black bears inhabit the Panhandle. Most roam north of the Pend Oreille River in Bonner County.
Pat Norris and her husband, Henry, are campground hosts at lower Luby Bay at Priest Lake. They already tell of a bothersome 100-plus-pound bear that was trapped and moved last week.
“He would come visit, get up on the picnic tables and eat anything he could find and lay down,” Pat Norris said. “One lady had been hiking and had her boots on the table. The bear just started chewing them up until another camper shooed him away. I hope he doesn’t decide to come back for the summer.”
The Forest Service has started using bear-proof garbage Dumpsters so the animals aren’t lured to campgrounds for the easy pickings.
The ranger station had to reinforce one Dumpster lid with steel bars after the bears learned to jump on top of it until the lid caved in.
“Man, they are persistent,” said Wilkins. Two weeks ago, she found the bin, wheel-side up, at the bottom of a hill, but the lid was still locked.
Another draw for the bears has been a county dumpsite at Hanna Flats, near the ranger station. The county fenced off the site last year and restricted hours of operation. Now people leave garbage outside the fence and it’s attracting wildlife.
When berry bushes finally ripen, it will abate the bear problem for awhile, Wilkins said. Until then, rangers are once again giving their bear education spiel to visitors.
Put food in plastic airtight containers, hang it from a tree or store it in the car. Always bring pet food inside and don’t leave garbage lying around, said wildlife manager Hayden.
“And don’t feed the bears,” he said. “You can’t imagine how many people still do it.”
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