Monday, June 25, 2012

Saturday June 23, Bear Box to Tom Leonard Shelter

Cosmo, Jim, Dave, Steve and Dennis met at the Lake Buel Rd parking area on Saturday morning to move a bear box to Tom Leonard Shelter.  Our task was to carry this 90lb steel box up about a mile of trail to the shelter.

With four carrying it at a time, it's relatively easy to move the box up the trail.

Even better is meeting a group of international students from the Eisner Camp out for a group leader training hike.  We were able to "supervise" the rest of the box's journey to the shelter.

 It seems our trip was a timely one, the shelter register indicates a visit from a large bear about a week before.
Ready for the bears.  Note box chained to tree.

Another visitor to Tom Leonard is a local porcupine.  He (or she) seems to find the shelter particularly tasty, and has be regularly gnawing away at the timbers.  The surrounding rocky cliffs and numerous hemlocks make this prime habitat for these critters.  We are regularly treating the shelter timbers with a repellent spray (contains rotten eggs and dried blood), but it's not clear that this has any lasting effect.  We've also provided a baseball bat that hikers can use to administer their own deterrent.  Trapping or killing the beasts is illegal, and in this prime habitat would not reduce the population significantly.

Why would we want a box of bears at the shelter?  And why is it so heavy?  This is not an uncommon question we get from people not familiar with camping and hiking in New England.  The box is for hikers to store their food to keep it away from bears (and other critters such as raccoons and mice) while the hikers are sleeping in the shelter or their tents.

Black Bears are pretty ubiquitous in the Berkshires.  Most people don't see them because they are generally shy and avoid contact with humans.  They are however, active mammals and cover a wide territory looking for food.  Bears are omnivorous, they will eat anything from dead animals to donuts, and like most critters want to take in as many calories as possible while expending the least amount of energy.  Bears have good memories, if they score a 'jackpot' food source--say a foodbag full of granola bars hung inside a shelter--they will remember and make another visit sometime in the future.  With repeat visits, bears will learn to ignore the yelling hikers waving their arms and go right for the food--easy pickin's.

Hikers are instructed to hang their food high off of the ground and far from trees, but this can be very time consuming, and requires suitable trees and a large amount of rope--and is still not completely successful.  Plenty of videos on the Web of bears tearing down food bags.

Installing a heavy duty steel box with a latching lid is an easy way for hikers to keep food away from all kinds of critters, including the mice that often make shelters their homes.  Some rude or inexperienced hikes do seem to consider the bear box as a place to dump their trash, but most do not.  Once a bear learns that despite the delicious smells coming from the box they can't get it open, they will typically stop coming by on a regular basis.

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