No change in Yosemite or SEKI policy, for now, but the conversation continues

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We received a letter from Yosemite and SEKI in early May. They were concerned that they could stick a pencil point through the Ursack we sent them for evaluation in October 2014. They invited us to send two more Ursacks to see if that was an aberration. We declined on the basis that even though our newer bags have twice the tear strength of the IGBC approved Ursack they had, the fabric could still be pierced by a pencil point. (Note that a bear’s teeth and claws are much thicker than a pencil–about 1/16″–but that even those more blunt instruments could still create weave separations). Our letter in response began like this:

Your letter of May 6, 2016 raises an interesting question. Will a bear that tastes a tiny amount of food or liquid from an otherwise secure bear resistant container become conditioned to anthropegenic food sources?

Apparently, Yosemite and SEKI believe the answer is yes. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee disagrees. Not surprisingly, Ursack favors the IGBC approach. They have been testing bear resistant containers since 1989 and established their standards through “consultation with North American human-bear conflict experts and bear biologists.” (all quotes from IGBC.org).  I have not seen any scientific evidence that the Yosemite/SEKI theory is anything more than just a theory.

And quoting the IGBC protocol:

“IGBC approval does not guarantee that small amounts of the contents of the containers won’t be able to leak or spill out.” “For garbage containment products, gaps, tears or holes of 1½ inches or less are allowable. For food storage products, gaps, tears or holes of ¼ inch or less are allowable.”

We offered to meet anytime anyplace with the appropriate representatives of Yosemite and SEKI to discuss these issues, and are hoping to hear back.

SEKI Publishes 2016 Canister Policy–No Ursack, No Explanation

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Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI) has published its 2016 guidelines. Containers are required in the Dusy Basin, Rae Lakes Loop, North Dome and Rock Creek areas from May 1 through October 31. Ursack is allowed in all other areas of SEKI. The list of SEKI approved food storage containers does not include or mention Ursack. There has been no explanation given to us despite the fact that SEKI has had years to evaluate the IGBC approved Ursack S29 AllWhite. Our letters and phone calls have gone unanswered. Ursack’s perfect record has been ignored. We are not aware of any bear anywhere in the world, much less SEKI, that has torn a greater than 1/4 inch hole (the IGBC standard) in an Ursack S29/S29.3 AllWhite.

Still Waiting to Hear from Yosemite and SEKI

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We have been promised, since November 2015, that a letter was coming from the Solicitor’s (Department of Interior lawyer) office concerning Ursack’s approval in Yosemite and three parts of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. Four months later, we are still waiting. We actually began seeking approval in October 2014 after we received IGBC certification. Apparently, some people in government think that confirming the approval of a bear bag in an election year is inappropriate. One official stated: “It is about a principle, not a specific product like Ursack.”

Hard sided canisters failing in Yosemite

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Here is an article by Tom Stienstra from the August 30, 2015 S.F. Chronicle:

Nature bats last, goes the saying, and in the past week, clever bears in the Yosemite wilderness are getting the last word.

You know those bear-proof food canisters we’re all required to carry in our backpacks? The same canisters that have proved so effective in wilderness? So effective that many bears have left the remote wilds in order to ply the easy-to-get eats at many drive-in campgrounds in national parks?

The bears know that food is inside those canisters, you see. Drives ’em nuts, literally. If the bears stay in the wilderness, because of those canisters, they’re forced to eat plants, berries and nuts. In the past few weeks, a few bears have come up with Plan B.

In several encounters last week, bears grabbed, tossed or absconded with the bear-proof food canisters, according to rangers at Yosemite National Park. Something like a robber stealing a safe, then taking it home to figure out how to get the goodies.

Brother Rambob, on his last trip out of Tuolumne Meadows, said one hiker told him a bear grabbed his locked bear-proof canister, ran off with it, and when the hiker followed in pursuit, “the bear threw it into a deep ravine.” I heard a similar tale on a trip out of Hetch Hetchy.

Then, in separate episodes last week, reported Caitlin Lee-Roney, a wildlife specialist at Yosemite, bears went inside the tents of wilderness campers to look for food.

In another case, a hiker didn’t latch the canister quite right. Even though it was partially secured, “a bear was able to pry open the canister lid by prying it back,” said Lee-Roney.

New Lifetime Warranty (and Yosemite, SEKI, Inyo update)

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We have changed our warranty effective immediately.

Limited Lifetime Warranty.

We will replace, or refund the cost of, any properly deployed Ursack in which a gap, tear or hole larger than 1/4 inch is caused by a wild animal. This 1/4 inch standard is the criteria used in the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s test protocol. We ask that customers return any damaged Ursack to us for inspection.

Meanwhile, there is nothing new from Yosemite or SEKI. Several customers have contacted us confused about misinformation given to them by Inyo Rangers. We have confirmed with the authorities there that Ursack is allowed in Inyo–as it has been for several years.

 

Is anything happening with Ursack approval at Yosemite and SEKI?

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A customer recently forwarded an email from a SEKI wildlife biologist in which he responded on behalf of Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks to the customer’s query. Here is the email I sent to Yosemite and SEKI on June 10, 2015 in response:

 “Your email [to the Ursack customer] stated that the parks periodically review “new” portable bear-resistant containers certified by the IGBC to assess whether newly IGBC certified products are “a standalone device that functions independently of park resources” and whether there are “any other issues or concerns” relevant to the objectives of the program. You went on to state that the Parks you represent are currently reviewing the IGBC certified Ursack Model S29 AllWhite.

     As you know, the Ursack S29 AllWhite was certified by the IGBC in July 2014. The actual grizzly bear test was more than a year ago. On October 22, 2014, I wrote the superintendents of Yosemite and SEKI (copied here) asking them to approve Ursack. Two months later, they responded by asking for a sample for further evaluation. I sent one within a week. I have heard nothing since. The recent lists of approved canisters posted on the Parks’ websites do not mention Ursack.

     Rachel Mazur’s interesting new book, Speaking of Bears, tells of a Yosemite bear that broke about 25 canisters in 2013 by rolling them off a cliff. Presumably, all of these canisters remain on the Parks’ approved list while Ursack remains in limbo.

     In short, Yosemite and SEKI have theoretically been reviewing the IGBC certified Ursack for six months or more with no indication of what that review process is, what the specific criteria for approval are, or when a decision might be made. As you might imagine, both the company and thousands of customers and potential customers are frustrated by this lack of progress. (Thousands of customers is not an exaggeration. One of them started a change.org petition which has garnered more than 2,500 signatures).

     Please let us know, with specifics, what is happening with your evaluation. If it is easier to call, please do.

     Please.”

Yosemite/SEKI and change.org petition

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Unbeknownst to us, some interested backpackers started a change.org petition a while back to persuade Yosemite and SEKI to accept Ursack. We do not personally know any of these people and had nothing to do with starting the petition, but–needless to say–we approve. If you would like to add your support, go to https://www.change.org/p/charles-cuvelier-chief-ranger-at-yosemite-np-and-administrators-of-sequoia-and-kings-canyon-np-approve-ursack-2014-s29-for-use-in-your-parks?recruiter=226980591&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_term=des-lg-no_src-reason_msg.

Yosemite and Sequoia Kings Canyon

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Yosemite and Sequoia Kings Canyon are currently reviewing the current version of the Ursack S29 AllWhite for use in those Parks. I do not know when they will make their decision or what that decision will be. In a recent letter to them, I pointed out that the recent release of the movie Wild and the upcoming release of the movie A Walk in the Woods are very likely to lead to an increase in long distance backpacking, and that thru-hikers are already making equipment choices for this year. Hopefully, these Parks (and others) will acknowledge that IGBC certification and the 2014 Ursack’s perfect record against wilderness bears warrants approval.

Happy New Year!

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