By Dr. Kevin Bunnell, mammals program coordinator, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
-- If you enjoy camping in Utah, the following scene probably sickens you as much as it does me: You pull into your favorite camping spot, ready to enjoy a day or two in Utah's backcountry. But what you find is anything but enjoyable.
Pop and beer cans are strewn around the campsite. Uneaten food and plastic food containers are scattered everywhere.
For many of us, the effects of irresponsible camping in Utah are simply an eyesore and a jolt to what we were hoping to find. After our initial disgust, we start cleaning up the area. Once it's clean, we settle back and begin to enjoy the beauty and solitude we came to Utah's backcountry to find.
But what many of us don't realize is that the effects of irresponsible camping can be much worse than an eyesore and the 30 minutes it takes to get rid of it - it can cost a life, either your life or the life of a bear.
Between 2,000 and 4,000 black bears live in Utah. Anytime you camp in a forested area in the state, there's a good chance a black bear isn't far away.
Smells and odors - especially from food and items such as deodorants and perfumes - are what attract bears to people. Once a bear begins to associate a campsite as a place to go for a free and easy meal, the outcome usually isn't good for the bear. And sometimes it isn't good for those who camp in the area.
One of the biggest challenges we face as campers and cabin owners is complacency. Most years, plenty of natural food is available, and bears don't need to look for food around people. In those years, even a dirty campsite may not attract a bear. But when a poor food year hits - like it did last summer - this complacency can quickly turn into a dangerous situation for both people and bears.
Every year, the Division of Wildlife Resources has to euthanize bears to protect the public. In some of the worst years, we've euthanized as many as 20 bears. It's not something our biologists and officers like to do.
One of the most frustrating things I've dealt with is the knowledge that the trouble the euthanized bear got into probably wasn't its fault. The past or current actions of someone camping in the area are usually part of the reason the bear ended up in the situation it did.
You can avoid putting a bear in that situation - and protect yourself and others who will camp in your spot after you - by following the simple rules found at www.wildlife.utah.gov/bearsafety.
The following are among the tips you'll find at the website:
Don't leave food out.
Don't scatter food scraps and other litter around your campsite or cabin area.
Don't keep food in the area where you're sleeping.
Don't bring items with you that have a strong odor. Bears have extremely sensitive noses. Anything that has a strong smell, including deodorant, perfume and certain soaps, could draw a bear to your campsite.
Never feed a bear.
As another camping season gets underway in Utah, I encourage each of us to clean up after ourselves and to be responsible campers. The safety of Utah's black bears - and our safety - depend on it.