*Boundary Waters Bears*
In August 2000, the Boy Scouts of Troop 2 went with me to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for a week. Their sisters went also, in a separate group. Hanging bear bags every evening was one real pain. The boys got the idea somewhere that they ought to, uh, relieve their bladders around the perimeter of the campsite. Water the trees, so to speak. Now, I know these guys, I've camped with them before. All had contraband snacks in their packs and pockets. Inside their tents. Yet, the only close encounter of the ursine kind was at the end of the week, the boys spotted a lone cub swimming across a lake. That's it. No tracks in or around camp, no slashed tents or packs, bear bags unmolested in the trees.
After we got home, we heard how things went for the girls. Now, the girls' leader was a ranger at one of the parks in the metro area. Knows all about feeding habits of bears, racoons, squirrels, etc. The first night in the BWCAW, a bear got the bag. Oh, sure, the bag was 10+ feet off the ground, away from the tree trunk, just like they tell everyone at the entry station. But, adult brown bears can stand on their hind legs, and a little persistence on the part of one large (and clearly experienced) specimen allowed him (statistically, the size needed to do this would be male, but a large sow could have as well. Whichever, it was dark, and the girls were scared.) to slash the bottom of the bag, then he took his pick of the loot and left. About half the food, including all the snacks.
So what was the difference? Could have been chance. I chalk it up to the boys marking their territory every day, in a language the ursine locals understood. The boys were enough to warrant 2 separate groups, neither of which had any contact with bears. The girls were in a single group. Statistically, the boys were twice as likely to have an ursine encounter, and when we take into account their known habits, all adult leaders were amazed that the bears left us alone. The girls lost food to a bear the first night. These are city girls, say "Watch for bears" and they'll do anything to prevent an encounter.
Ah, the value of clear communication. Dr Dolittle, eat your heart out.
1. Bears are highly intelligent, and learn quickly. Hence their frequent employment in circuses (Circi?) and movies.
2. Bears are omnivores, like most humans. They'll eat anything.
3. Adult bears can easily weigh 250 kilos and more. With a body mass like that, a diet consisting largely of vegetable matter, and the need to put on 75-150 kilos of fat before winter, a good euphemism for ursines is "shambling appetites". Most difficulties between genus Ursa and genus Homo are simply hunger.
4. Male bears have a bone that sows do not. The base of this bone is connected in the pelvic region. You do the math. (2+2=?) Walrus and racoon share this trait.
5. Bears have lousy vision. They stand upright to get a better view. Hollywood directors don't know this. The trainers keep silent.
6. Bears in Minnesota will eat anything but raw chicken. Beef, pork, even hot dogs, no problem. Cooked chicken, OK. They'll eat the entire contents of a 20 gallon bait bucket, but leave the raw chicken.
7. Momma bear is so protective of her cubs because poppa bear would eat them if given the chance. Why? Sows with small cubs aren't too interested in mating.
The BWCA is so popular, entry permits must be purchased 6 months in advance. Campsites are finite and established, easily discerned by an iron fire ring and a white latrine stool in bush. No outhouse, just the commode. Fishing's good. Portages are rough, because at least one other group is waiting to use the trail. Cellular phone service is non-existant. Just a little bit of paradise!
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