Do not feed the bears! Storing your food

Every person who visits the Lakeshore has a chance to keep bears (and all wildlife) wild by making sure their food, beverages, and trash are stored properly. A single taste of human food or trash is enough to turn a wild bear into a food-conditioned bear. These bears are not "problem" bears; they are the result of improperly stored food. Bears that seek human food have not forgotten how to forage naturally--human food simply has much more energy (fat, calories, etc.) than their natural foods so they can spend much less time foraging and pack on more pounds when eating human food. Would you rather eat ants or ice cream?!? Sadly, bears that obtain human food may lose their natural fear of humans. Over time, they may become bold or aggressive in their attempts to obtain human food and become a threat to public safety. When this happens, the bear pays the ultimate price–it is destroyed. Every person who enters Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has a special opportunity to keep bears in our Park wild and alive!

In 2010, park rangers at Sleeping Bear Dunes received over two dozen of reports of bears and bear signs, such as tracks and scat, including several reports of bears in campgrounds. While park rangers use a number of techniques to manage food-conditioned bears, the success of any bear management program ultimately comes down to one thing: keeping human food and trash away from bears. Relocating food-conditioned bears is often unsuccessful, as relocated bears typically return to the location from where they were moved. Aversive-conditioning techniques have much better success. These techniques, including using rubber bullets or bean-bag rounds, aim to re-instill a bear's natural fear of humans and are effective in changing a bearís food-seeking behavior, especially when applied immediately after a bear has obtained food for the first time.

Since that time, the park has invested in food boxes, bear proof canisters and other management tools to prevent food conditioning. Thanks to these efforts and the help of our visitors, we have not had any problem bears. Successful bear management requires consistent and accurate reporting. You can help by immediately reporting all bear sightings to the visitor center, campground office, or any park ranger.

How can you help?

Black bears, raccoons, coyotes, squirrels, crows and other wildlife are enticed by human food left in campsites, on picnic tables, offered from an outstretched hand, or in litter. Do not feed wildlife! Feeding animals or allowing them access to human food causes a number of problems:

  • It changes behavior by causing wild animals to lose their instinctive fear of humans. This lack of fear causes panhandler or "nuisance" animals to be more unpredictable and dangerous when they encounter humans.
  • Nuisance animals can damage property and injure people. These animals pose a risk to public safety. They can also teach their cohorts this dangerous behavior. Often, they must be euthanized.
  • It transforms wild and healthy animals into habitual beggars. Studies have shown that panhandling animals have a shorter lifespan. Beggar animals may die from ingesting food packaging. Many animals have died a slow and agonizing death from eating plastics and other materials. Many are hit by cars and become easy targets for poachers.
  • Food left unattended attracts gulls, ravens and crows to picnic areas and beaches. Our beach areas provide nesting habitat to the federally endangered piping plover. These same birds will prey upon plover eggs.
  • Remember, Garbage Kills!

For these reasons, National Park Service rangers may issue citations for feeding wildlife and for improper food storage. Feeding animals and improper food storage can result in fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences lasting up to six months. Visitors are urged to view all wildlife at a safe distance and to never leave food or garbage unattended.

What is Food?

"Food" includes any item with a scent, regardless of packaging. This may include items that you do not consider food, such as canned goods, empty bottles for recycling, soaps, cosmetics, toiletries, insect repellants, candles, ice chests (even when empty), pet food, drinks, food packaging/trash, and unwashed items used for preparing or eating meals. All these items must be stored properly.

How to Store Your Food

In your car or RV

You may store food inside your car or RV (out of sight, with windows completely closed).

In campgrounds
You must store all your food in sealed containers. NEVER store food, beverages (other than water), trash, or scented items in tents. Lock food and scented items in vehicle trunk, RV, bear box (if provided) or secure metal container, day and night. Animals may enter campsites even in your presence, and some will even check coolers to see if they are latched. When you are not using your cooler, store it in your vehicle. If you don't have a vehicle, check with at the registration station about checking-out an approved animal proof container.

  • Keep your food storage container closed and secured at all times.
  • Only have the food out that you are actually using; if you're not using it, put it back into the food locker/car.
  • Treat your trash like food: keep it in a latched container in your car or dispose of it in designated trash receptacle. DO NOT leave food, including pet food, sitting out on picnic tables, on the beach or in cooking areas unattended, even for a few minutes.
  • Do not use fire rings to dispose of food, cooking grease, or food scraps.

In picnic areas and on the trail
Always keep your food within arm's reach and don't turn your back to your food; never leave food unattended. Animals may investigate picnic areas or backpacks for food even in your presence, so be alert.

Last updated: January 24, 2018

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