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Food storage rules set for Panhandle

Forest Service focuses on bear danger

The Forest Service is stepping up efforts to reduce conflicts between people and wildlife, especially bears.

On Tuesday the Idaho Panhandle National Forests will enact rules dealing with human food and pet food, garbage and bird seed, deer carcasses, fish entrails and anything else that might lure critters into trouble.

Cabin dwellers and visitors around Priest Lake, plus backcountry visitors throughout the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains, will be required to dispose of or store food and other attractants in a “bear resistant manner.”

Other wildlife attractants listed in the Forest Service order include coolers, deodorant, toothpaste, cosmetics, lotions and beverage containers.

The rules will apply in different degrees to “front country” and “backcountry” areas in the Priest Lake, Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry ranger districts.

“The Priest Lake area has a high density of people, recreation and wildlife, which increases the odds for wildlife conflicts,” said Jason Kirchner, Forest Service spokesman in Coeur d’Alene. “Bears are among the most dangerous animals, but other wildlife can be problems, too, if they’re lured by food. We have a huge issue with people feeding deer in the Sam Owens Campground. Deer can be dangerous. A woman was severely attacked by a buck this week in southern Idaho.”

The wildlife attractant rules will bring the north end of the Panhandle Forests into compliance with rules already enacted in the Colville, Kootenai and Lolo national forests, Kirchner said.

The forest plans to try out the rules in the north before deciding how to apply them farther south in the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe areas, he said.

The new food storage requirements are intended to be permanent, effective each year from April 1 through Dec. 1, he said.

Rules applying to the “front country,” such as around Priest Lake, have been encouraged for years, he said. They include keeping food in a vehicle or hard-sided shelter when not being consumed at meals.

But the new rules specifically prohibit feeding wildlife and putting up bird feeders – liquid, suet or seed – in certain areas.

Bear-resistant garbage containers will be required in designated areas and camp food and leftovers, such as bacon grease, must be hauled out and not buried on site.

Front-country anglers will be required to take their fish entrails home or to an authorized disposal.

In “backcountry” locations, which are defined on a map available from Forest Service offices or on the Web, the order allows animal and fish entrails to be left in place in some situations while food items and other attractants must be packed out.

Idaho Fish and Game officials recommend that backcountry anglers puncture and sink their fish entrails and toss them back into a lake far from shore, trails or camping areas.

Under the new Forest Service rules, hunters must move wildlife carcasses at least a half mile from a camping area or 200 yards from a designated national forest trail.

Livestock deaths must be reported by the responsible party within 24 hours in the front country and 48 hours in remote areas.

Backpackers must hang their food properly or store it in bear-proof containers, Kirchner said, noting that bear-proof metal food lockers have been installed in some popular backcountry sites in the Selkirk Mountains.

“We’re planning on installing more lockers in areas such as Kalispell Island (on Priest Lake) to make it easier to keep food stored properly,” he said.

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