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Starting Today, Hikers Will Need to Carry Bear Canisters in the Desolation Wilderness

Area bears have reportedly become more aggressive in seeking human food in recent years.

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Overnight visitors to California’s Desolation Wilderness will need to carry bear canisters under a new Forest Service policy that comes into force today, July 18.

In a post on its blog, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) said that the purpose of the new policy was to protect both bears and hikers in the area.

“In recent years, bears have become more aggressive in their search for food, relying on human sources rather than natural sources,” the PCTA wrote. “This causes increased interactions between humans and bears and the possibility of bears becoming habituated to the presence of humans. A person who fights back or gets between the bear and food is risking bodily injury or death. In cases where a bear is known to repeatedly threaten or intimidate visitors or cause injury, the bear may be euthanized.”

While bear bags used to be a relatively common way of protecting food from hungry bruins on the PCT, the animals have become more adept at defeating hangs over the years. At popular camping spots in the Desolation Wilderness like Lake Aloha or Gilmore Lake, bears have torn down as many as 10 hangs in a single night, the PCTA noted. In addition to the danger posed by a close encounter with a bear, hikers who lose their food supplies have to go off-trail to find more.

Spanning 63,960 acres of the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, the Desolation Wilderness’s remote peaks and forests are a popular destination for backpacking trips both brief and super-sized. In addition to 26 miles of the PCT, the wilderness contains part of the Tahoe Rim Trail.

The current order will remain in force year-round until July 17, 2025; violators face penalties of up to $10,000 in fines or 6 months in jail.

Last week, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy recommended that hikers on the AT begin to carry bear canisters; unlike the new order for the Desolation Wilderness, the conservancy’s policy does not have the force of law.


From 2022