I am always astonished when backpackers tell me that they can outsmart bears by sleeping with their food at night or by camping in spots not frequented by other campers. Let’s suppose it’s true that they can outwit an animal that can smell blood and food from 20 miles away. It doesn’t matter. The purpose of hanging a bear bag is not to keep your food safe.
THE PURPOSE OF HANGING A BEAR BAG IS TO KEEP BEARS WILD!
The primary purpose of hanging a bear bag at night or using a bear canister is to keep bears wild. Period. If a bear starts eating human food because of your carelessness or hubris (excessive pride), it’s possible that it will stop seeking natural food sources. Changing the food preferences of the top predator in the woods can have a huge impact on all of the other animals, fish, and plant life that depend on that bear’s hunting and gathering behavior, where it shits, and the pollen and plants seeds that cling to its fur, if they develop a preference for pop tarts instead of termites, salmon fishing, and tree nuts.
Look around you. The amount of Wilderness (with a capital ‘W’) we have in the lower 48 shrinks each week. I’m not talking about Wilderness in term of acreage, but in terms of the “Wild-ness” of the Wilderness areas we’ve set aside. How wild can an area remain if is logged for lumber? If windmills and pipelines are built in it? If roads are built through it? If it is prevented from burning? All of these “land management” activities have a huge impact on wildlife, territorial species distribution, and animal behavior, even if they are hidden behind Interior Department rhetoric.
Hanging a bear bag may seem like a token gesture when compared to the disruption that a new forest service road has on local wildlife behavior, but it is something that is completely in your control to do or not do. And while it’s not always 100% effective, it may be enough to deter a bear from spending the night gnawing on your bear rope when there is other food available nearby like a rotting log full of insects that are part of its normal diet .
Hanging a bear bag or using a bear broof bag like an Ursack doesn’t take a lot of skill to do, so I can’t understand why people are so against doing it. But then again, people still throw cigarette butts and cellophane wrappers out car windows.
I hope there is some Wildness left in the lower 48 when you get to be my age. It is in greater danger of disappearing than you realize.