Tents are more popular than ever, but be smart about where you leave your food because uninvited guests will find it

It is incredible how many families and groups of friends are taking their vacations in the form of camping trips in various parks and private campgrounds. 

Rangers and others are reporting that virtually every site in the NY Parks System is expected to be occupied on most nights this summer. Any time a site is vacated it is often filled by new campers within hours.

There have been all sorts of informal surveys taken, and the overwhelming reason given for enjoying a family camping trip is the high cost of motels and restaurant meals. People realize they can have just as much fun in a park with a supervised swimming area here in New York as they could in a similar area in New England, the East Coast or other more-distant points.

But there are several potential problems that are likely to pop up just about anywhere that camping is allowed. Black bears and other critters are also getting used to visiting campgrounds, usually in search of handouts and other goodies, such as those found in coolers.

BEARS: The real problem is that the population of these bruins is currently undergoing an explosion of sorts. They are becoming downright numerous just about everywhere they are found. Their historic ranges are also expanding, causing all sorts of unwanted interaction with nearby humans.

Last year a family that was tent camping near Cooperstown was sent scurrying into their mini-van in the middle of the night when a momma bruin and her two cubs came to dinner as uninvited guests. That momma bear sure appeared to enjoy the hamburgers, buns, potato chips and even the dill pickles, at least according to the video shot by the father of the family in the van.  

And the cubs just loved a package of cookies they found on the picnic table. They ate those cookies the way momma ate the potato chips. Then they all ambled away, probably in search of more desserts and other goodies.

Keep in mind that all black bears are potentially dangerous critters. And sow bears with youngsters are extremely protective, often ready to explode in defensive violence at the slightest provocation or no provocation at all. They are big, strong animals that can cause lots of pain and suffering very quickly.

CRITTERS: Actually feeding any wild critters is always a bad idea for many reasons. Chipmunks, squirrels, deer, skunks and raccoons are probably the most notable of the smaller critters that might be unwanted visitors to a campsite. They may look cute, and they may act like tame house pets. 

But every one of them is a potential powder keg that could explode in an instant without any apparent provocation.

It is a good policy never to feed any wildlife, regardless of the circumstances. Feeding does two things: it encourages them to beg for even more food, and it dulls their natural fear of humans. It does not take much for a cute little beggar, sitting in cute repose on its butt, to suddenly become an aggressive, potentially deadly (think about any one of several diseases) attacker.  And the change can literally happen in the blink of an eye.

Please do not be discouraged or “scared off” by this discussion. Camping can be one of the most enjoyable and relaxing pastimes available to humans. But as with many other activities a little caution and a big dose of common sense can keep a camping trip almost anywhere pleasant and enjoyable instead of painful and miserable. 

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Since we are on the topic (sort of) of black bears, here is a home-invasion bear tale with a relatively happy ending. 

It seems Ron and Dorothy Owens were lingering in bed in their Haliburton, Ontario, when they heard a loud crash that came from the kitchen area.  A period of silence was followed by another loud crash. More silence, then a third loud crash.

So Ron (finally) got up to investigate, all the time thinking a raccoon had most likely crawled through a window and needed to be shooed back outdoors. But when he stepped into the kitchen he stopped dead in his tracks. There, sitting on the counter next to the sink, was a very large black bear that appeared to be greatly enjoying a pecan pie.

The bear seemed just as surprised to see him, but didn’t let that surprise interrupt his breakfast. So, as the bear kept on eating, Ron quickly went back to the bedroom and asked his wife to call 911. They were told by police to remain in their bedroom for safety.  

But according to Ron, “That’s no fun.” So he slipped back in to the kitchen door and let out three sharp whistle blasts. That loud and quite unexpected noise visibly startled the bear, and caused it to rather quickly go back out through the same window it had entered from. 

Oh, but a startled bear is not necessarily a dumb bear. As Ron later told a local reporter,  “On its way out it grabbed a nice fresh loaf of cinnamon raisin bread.” 

I have to wonder if that bear will come back for seconds?

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Did you know that a female black bear can have cubs as early as the fall her of third year? And most young females will have one or two cubs during their first breeding. The cubs stay with momma until the fall of their second year when she will literally drive them away or send them up a tree and then walk away.

Black bears can live for more than 30 years, but most will die in their 20s. A female will have around 10 litters in her lifetime. And her litters will usually contain two to four cubs. 

Rarely, and I do mean rarely, a litter of five will arrive and survive through their second year.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at lisenbee@frontiernet. net.