Desolation Wilderness Now Requires Bear-Resistant Food Storage

The US Forest Service has announced that all overnight visitors to California’s Desolation Wilderness, which is in Eldorado National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, will be required to store food and refuse in bear-resistant containers. The order goes into effect today, July 18th, and will remain in effect through July of 2025.

“In recent years, bears have become more aggressive in their search for food, relying on human sources rather than natural sources. This causes increased interactions between humans and bears and the possibility of bears becoming habituated to the presence of humans,” reads part of a Forest Service news release.

Human-Bear Conflict On the Rise

According to Eldorado National Forest, traditional methods of backcountry food storage such as “bear hangs” are no longer effective in the area, even when they are done properly. Additionally, local bears are no longer being scared away by whistling, banging pots and pans, and other common methods of deterring bears. “Backpackers at Lake Aloha, Gilmore Lake, and other popular camping areas in Desolation Wilderness have lost as many as ten ‘bear hangs’ a night to bears in recent years.” Rangers have reported finding bear scat with food wrappers and bar codes in it.

When bears get into human food, they create a mess of food and packaging strewn about. Backpackers whose bear hangs fail are left with no food and often have to leave the backcountry to resupply before continuing their trips. Bears that repeatedly approach humans may have to be euthanized as they pose a significant threat to humans who get between the animals and the food they seek.

“One of the principles of Leave No Trace is to respect wildlife,” says the Forest Service. “Considerate campers observe wildlife from a distance, store food securely and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals. A camper would be wise to check his or her tent for food in pockets, candy wrappers, and the like.”

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Bear Canisters on the PCT

The new food and refuse storage restriction requires visitors to store all food and waste “in a canister designed to prevent access by bears.” Soft-sided bear-resistant containers like the Ursack will not be acceptable substitutes. The restriction affects, among others, Pacific Crest Trail hikers between northbound miles 1095 and 1117 and Tahoe Rim Trail hikers. Backpackers can purchase canisters or rent them from the Placerville Ranger Station when they get their permit.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) expressed strong support for the measure, having long advocated for the use of canisters in the area. The organization cautioned hikers against attempting to hike through the affected section in one day without a canister. While the new rule only applies to overnight campers, “the 26 miles of Pacific Crest Trail between Echo Lake and Richardson Lake are hard to do in a day and bears are regularly obtaining food from hikers north of the Desolation Wilderness boundary,” wrote PCTA Trail Information Manager Jack “Found” Haskel.

READ NEXT – ATC Recommends Bear-Resistant Food Storage Along Entire Appalachian Trail

Canisters are also required on the PCT in parts of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Inyo, Sierra, and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests, and in all of Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic National Parks.

Hikers can contact the Placerville Ranger Station at (530) 647-5415 for more information or to report a bear incident in Desolation Wilderness.

Featured image via Adam Miguel.

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Comments 3

  • EP : Jul 20th

    Thanks to all those I’ve seen in recent years entering the wilderness not doing anything they’re supposed to be doing. Large groups far beyond the 12-person limit. I had to yell at some visitors who threw shit on the ground the last time I was there. Then people during the pandemic trying to get away from the cities putting up tents anywhere they could find a spot, including right at the water’s edge at Tamarack and Aloha. I remember thinking WHERE ARE THE RANGERS?! Nothing matters. No one follows rules. These self-centered human trash will ruin (and are ruining) everything for everyone else.

  • Cynthia : Jul 20th

    I believe the wilderness is a place for us all to value and enjoy, with respect for each other and for wildlife. To that end people who intend to camp in bear country ought to consider packing in lightweight yet powerful electric bear fences to surround their campsites. They deter bears although people have to do their part to follow best practices that include storing food in BRCs so that bears won’t be motivated to enter campsites in the first place. When bears do not associate people spaces with tasty snacks, even when this is confirmed with a nasty shock (that does no damage) it’s good for us and good for the bears.


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