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Protecting bears and people in the Adirondacks
WCS conservation actions in New York State’s Adirondack Park has led to 90% compliance with regulations requiring backpackers to use bear-proof food canisters, and a 70% decline in human-bear conflict.
The 24,200 km2 Adirondack Park in Northern New York welcomes 5 to 10 million visitors annually. Many hike or backpack on the 12,000 km2 of public land. Frequent human-bear interactions have made protecting food from wildlife essential on backpacking trips. As the number of backpackers has increased over time, so too has the number of negative interactions with bears. Starting in the 1990s, bears began to outsmart “bear-proof” bags and cables used for hanging food, escalating problems for humans and for bears who were often killed due to their aggressive behavior. In 2002, WCS launched the Black Bear Education Awareness and Research program (BBEAR) to test whether the use of bear-proof food canisters reduce bear-human conflicts and to encourage backpackers to properly store their food when camping. Major efforts included purchasing and distributing bear-resistant food canisters to outdoor retail shops; monitoring bear conflict rates; gauging backpackers’ willingness to try new approaches to food storage; and conducting education about the benefits of protecting bears. After two years, WCS research demonstrated the utility of bear-resistant canisters, and as a result the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) adopted a regulation mandating bear-proof canister use by backpackers in an area of the Adirondacks with the highest concentration of human-bear interactions. The canister law had an immediate effect. Today over 90% of backpackers comply with the canister regulation and human-bear interactions have declined dramatically from an average of 400 encounters per year to fewer than 150, a 65% decline. As a result, fewer bears are able to obtain human food and risk being killed because they have become habituated to humans. WCS continues to support this work currently through education, ongoing research, and the employment of backcountry Adirondack Bear Stewards who provide information about co-existing with bears and coordinate a bear-proof canister loan program at busy trailheads each summer.
Human-bear conflicts in the high-use recreational corridor in the eastern High Peaks had numbered 350 to 450 consistently per year in the early 2000s. The bear-canister rental program demonstrated the potential for reducing conflict, inspiring the NYSDEC to adopt a canister regulation for all users in 2005. The number of human-bear interactions decreased by over 70% and has remained steady over time.
Human-black bear conflicts declined by over 70% after a WCS pilot study convinced the Adirondack Park Agency to require backpackers to use bear-proof food canisters.
When the NY Department of Environmental Conservation took the advice of WCS scientist and mandated bere canister use by backpackers, dangerous encounters with black bears declined by 70%.