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  • Writer's pictureIPWA

BEARing Responsibility

By Emily Herrington, IPWA Volunteer

Of the residents of Colorado, approximately 10,000 to 12,000 are American Black Bears. Although named “black,” these bears sport a variety of shades from blonde, brown, reddish brown, to black.

Their habitat is mostly montane forests and shrublands and subalpine forests at moderate elevation, and this includes areas of the James Peak Wilderness and Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Bears are busy from mid-March through early November. Although they are omnivorous and mainly eat berries, nuts, insects, and scavenged carcasses, the black bear is an opportunist. Campers’ food is a temptingly easy meal, especially when bears need up to 20,000 calories a day to gain enough fat for winter hibernation.

The black bear’s keen nose can smell food from five miles away. This smart omnivore can remember where it has found food before and will return frequently for more. (Source:

While these impressive adaptations make bears the largest predators in Colorado, they also lead them into more frequent contact with humans, especially in popular recreation areas. Several recent dangerous bear encounters in and around Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests prompted the Forest Service’s Boulder Ranger District to update their recreation policies to protect both bears and people. Starting this season, new guidelines for food storage are in effect for the Arapaho National Forest.

What’s changed:

The food storage order requires use of bear-safe storage containers for all food and scented products (e.g. deodorant, toothpaste) when not being actively used, cooked, or eaten.

Bear-resistant containers include:

  • Bear lockers in campgrounds

  • Bear-resistant canisters (see these great containers along with these impact reducers.)

  • Food stored out of sight in closed and locked vehicles (do not leave the windows cracked!).

  • Food also may be properly secured by hanging it 10 feet off the ground spaced between two trees, but this can be challenging in higher elevation areas where trees are stunted and scarce.

The food storage order applies when visitors are either in a developed recreation site, such as a campground, or within 300 feet of either side of the centerline of any open public road (as indicated on the Motor Vehicle Use Map); and in additional areas where conflicts with bears and people are known to occur, including:

  • Lost Lake

  • Diamond Lake Backcountry Travel Zone

  • Jasper Lake Backcountry Travel Zone

Dispersed Camping Closures:

Unprecedented use in the National Forests last year led to creation of thousands of dispersed camping sites and fire rings throughout. The Forest Service has temporarily closed five dispersed camping areas due to overuse and bear exposure.

  • Vasquez Creek and Little Vasquez Creek

  • Maxwell Falls

  • Rainbow Lakes Road

  • Ceran St. Vrain

  • Winiger Ridge

Know Before You Go and Camping in Bear Country are great resources to check out for any alerts and for safely recreating and enjoying bear country. Protecting bears is critical to the ecosystems in the Wilderness. Help us keep these awesome animals safe by following all the USFS guidelines and policies. (These policies are subject to change, so please check the USFS website for the most accurate information).

The BEST quality control testers:

Image source credits:


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