OFFICIALS: BEAR-PROOF YOUR FOOD --- OR ELSE.
Trouble's ``bruin'' in the Inyo National Forest this summer for hikers who don't properly tend to their bear necessities. Officials for the popular Eastern Sierra backcountry are vigorously enforcing a policy that requires backpackers to secure their food from bears throughout the forest.
Some areas are ``infested'' with black bears that find it far easier to gorge on human food than forage for themselves, said Diana Pietrasanta, a U.S. Forest Service wilderness manager in Lone Pine. The regulations are designed to keep bears from becoming habituated to people, which often has dangerous consequences for both the four-legged critters and their two-legged counterparts.
Campers must store their chow in plastic bear-proof canisters, counterbalance food bags in a tree (the traditional method) or take other bear-aware precautions. (Few permanent metal bear boxes are available outside of the national parks that the Inyo National Forest accesses.)
Violators could suffer the double-whammy of having their rations raided and getting slapped with a citation that calls for a fine of not more than $5,000 and/or six months in prison.
``Last year we were in education mode, so we wrote very few citations,'' Pietrasanta said. ``But this year I've written one and it's only June.''
Most hikers have acquiesced to the new mandate, officials said, but some have to be reminded that they are venturing into the bears' backyard, not vice versa.
``I was on the phone arguing with a guy who didn't want the government telling him what to do in the backcountry. . . . but (the policy) is for both the bears and you,'' Pietrasanta explained. ``If we don't tell you there's a bear problem and what to do about it, your $300 tent gets ripped up, all your food gets eaten and you have to leave. And, by the end of the summer, the bear is dead.''
Along the popular Kearsarge Pass Trail through Onion Valley west of Independence, where 4,000 hikers tromped last year, backpackers are required to carry their food in bear-proof containers. Wildlife agents were forced to kill two aggressive bears there last summer, including one that tore into a camper's tent and swatted him in the face.
The 2-pound, 13-ounce canisters can be rented locally at Adventure 16 in Tarzana, (818) 345-4266 ($8 for the first day and $2 every day after that), and REI in Northridge, (818) 831-5555 ($15 first day; $4 per day afterward for nonmembers). They are also available at U.S. Forest Service stations in Lone Pine, Bishop and Mammoth Lakes for $5 a day or $73.50 retail plus tax.