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Camping this summer? Here's how to avoid unwelcome guests like these

Northwest Trek's memorable demonstration offers lots of bear safety tips. #k5evening

EATONVILLE, Wash — These were not the kind of guests you wanted crashing your camping trip. Northwest Trek resident black bears Benton and Fern were making a mess of things, but it wasn’t really their fault.

“Bears don't seek out humans just because,” said animal keeper Haley Withers. “It's always because there's a food source with them.”

Earlier in the day Withers and animal keeper Carly Cerulli got to play Easter bunnies in Benton and Fern’s habitat. They hid fish in coolers, fresh vegetables in a picnic basket, even marshmallows in a tent.

“They don't get it often but when they do it’s a little sweet treat!” said Cerulli.

The campsite looked friendly enough. But something was very wrong.

“I think this is a good representation of an unsafe camping site,” said Withers. “We've got claw marks on the trees. There would be scat in this area. It's a fishing pond."

Benton and Fern are well-fed bears, but their sense of smell is extraordinary, and neither can resist an easy meal. You’d be surprised what might draw a bear.

“Shampoos, deodorant, toothpaste, perfume,” listed Withers. “Anything like that can be an attractant to a bear. If they don't know what that smell is they might think that it's food.”

Maybe you figured you'd snack on some granola bars in the tent? That would be a bad call.

“When you're out hiking or backpacking in the wilderness you always want to make sure that you're keeping your food in a separate area from your tent,” Withers said.

One way to keep your food safe is to use bear-resistant containers. Grizzly bears Hawthorne and Huckleberry thought the containers were part of a game.

“Our bears are challenged every day to find their food,” said Withers, “so they know if we put something out there that has food in it, if they can figure it out, they can get a reward from that.

Hawthorne put all of his 600 pounds into the effort, giving the plastic container what looked like chest presses until it finally gave way. A wild bear might have given up a long time ago.

“They don't want to spend too much energy trying to get into any one thing,” said Withers.

The point of these demonstrations isn't just to keep us safe, but to keep bears safe. A bear that associates food with people usually meets a bad end.

“That just leads to bears typically being euthanized which can be totally prevented,” Withers said.

It's up to us to share the woods responsibly, by not sharing our food at all.

For more bear country safety tips click here.

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