July 24, 2014
The 2014 Ursack S29 AllWhite has been given IGBC certification number 3738. It may take a bit of time before that information shows up on the IGBC website. 2013 and earlier models of the AllWhite are not certified. We are working on a way to offer a low cost retrofit and once we figure that out, we will post the information on our website and attempt to contact affected customers by email.
April 18, 2014
We are still awaiting the official certification letter and number from the IGBC, but can share some of the details. At IGBC insistence, we baited an Ursack S29 AllWhite, knotted it securely and placed it on the ground with no aluminum liner and not tied to a tree. The first two grizzlies went at it for an active 57 minutes. One of the bears was nick-named "The Destroyer," but neither he nor his sister were able to compromise the Ursack. The Grizzly Wolf and Discovery Center rotates bears in and out at approximately one hour intervals. So the Destroyer went back to his quarters and five, count 'em, five more grizzlies came out to work on the same Ursack. The IGBC testing protocol requires a total of 60 minutes of active bear encounters, so even though we needed just a few minutes more to pass the test, there was no way to get the Ursack out until the five bears finished their shift. Not to worry. Ursack made if for another hour. A total of seven grizzly bears and two hours of active clawing, biting and scratching--yet Ursack survived. After washing the Ursack one could barely (bearly?) tell that it had been attacked.
Here is a picture of Randy Gravatt of the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone (left) and Scott Jackson of IGBC (right) after the test.
April 11, 2014
IGBC test today. PASSED. Details to follow.
March 6, 2014
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) wants to re-test the Ursack S29 AllWhite. We expect the test to occur in early April 2014 and that an official IGBC decision will be made promptly thereafter. The re-test is necessary because of the "ambiguous" results of the May 30, 2013 tests (see earlier posts below for details). The new test will be of a single Ursack placed on the ground with no aluminum liner. If it survives 60 minutes of Grizzly attacks per the IGBC test protocol (to be finalized and posted soon), then it will receive IGBC certification. Please note that even IGBC certification is no guarantee that every wilderness area in the U.S. will approve Ursack.
January 6, 2014
It has been more than seven months since we tested Ursack for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) at the Grizzly Discovery Center, and there is still-despite repeated requests-no response. Many wilderness areas, e.g. Yosemite and SEKI, have delegated bear canister testing to the IGBC. Until there is a response, Ursack is in limbo. See the June 5, 2013 post below for an account of the test. Ursack had a terrific year. Our new bags, sewn with Spectra thread (sold since April 2013), had a next to perfect record in the wild as did our critter resistant Ursack Minors made with Kevlar/Stainless Steel fabric.
We just received an email from a Sierra ranger (who prefers to remain anonymous) that we think is worth sharing:
"I stumbled back upon your website to refresh my interests in your product. My wife and I successfully hiked the PCT in 2007 and carried Ursack the entire way. I believe it was partially approved for the Sierra that year. It was also a wonderful way to keep vermin out of our food. My question is why do the politics of using great products get in our way. I work for the NPS in [the Sierra] and was an eye witness to the failure of a BearVault in upper Paradise (a mother and cub who proceeded to slam the BV onto the rocks until it fractured). I could share more if interested but my point is why is this product still an approved canister? I don't know if anyone ever followed up on the incident but I'm disappointed to see some products be given thumbs up while others such as Ursack still waiting in the wings. I would love to see more hikers carrying your method."
To which we can only add: Amen and Happy New Year.
June 5, 2013
SUCCESSFUL GRIZZLY TEST. Ursack was tested in two configurations by the IGBC at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone on May 30, 2013. I was there for both tests. Check out a video excerpt on our Bear Test Videos page. This is a slightly newer version (since April 2013) of the Ursack S29 AllWhite which is sewn with Spectra thread. Ursack did extremely well. The IGBC test protocol requires that a product must survive 60 minutes of bear contact, which is defined as: "biting, clawing, pounding, rolling, compressing, licking or scratching." More than one Grizzly worked on the Ursacks, but the clock only runs while a bear is actively engaged. In one test, at least three (possibly four) bears attacked a baited unlined Ursack tied about five feet up a tree trunk. At the end of 60 minutes, the Ursack was fully intact with no punctures or tears. I easily untied it from the tree and opened it without the use of tools. The current IGBC published protocol states that: "If the product is not breached within the required 60 minutes of bear contact time, it will be considered to have "passed" the captive bear test."
In the other test, an Ursack with an aluminum liner was placed on the ground and not tied to anything. Sam and Illie--a brother sister tag team (Sam weighs 950 pounds)--attacked the Ursack. This bag was torn after approximately forty three minutes of contact. My interpretation is that the grizzlies were able to use their massive shoulder strength and claws to compromise the Ursack. Black bears are very different. They do not have the shoulder strength (no hump) or size of grizzlies and their claws are different. We have tested lined Ursacks on the ground with captive black bears and the Ursacks have easily survived. In the thirteen years we have been in business selling across North America (including Alaska and Canada), I have never heard of a grizzly compromising an Ursack.
It is my very strong belief that Ursack, whether lined with aluminum or not, tied up a tree or not, would pass a captive bear test with black bears. I suspect that an Ursack (aluminum lined or not) tied up a tree to minimize claw and shoulder advantage would survive a captive grizzly test.
The IGBC has not issued its official evaluation yet. We hope to receive approval within a couple of weeks. Stay tuned. I will post video excerpts of the IGBC test soon.
May 9, 2012
Ursack will not be tested in time for approval for this summer's backpacking season. Needless to say, we are disappointed. As noted in the posts below, Yosemite and SEKI (and implicitly other areas that rely on Yosemite) have turned over Ursack testing to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). Based on my conversations with a representative of the IGBC, it is apparently overworked and underfunded. Although slight progress has been made toward coming up with a testing protocol, there is still much work to do. I am told that IGBC will be hiring someone to develop the protocol within the next months, but that the entire process will not be finished in time for this season. There is some room for optimism for next year. There seems to be some agreement at the IGBC that laboratory testing may no longer be useful and that the ultimate test will be with captive bears. Given that Ursack has survived testing at the Grizzly Discovery Center (where IGBC tests), there is reason for optimism. There are at least two areas of concern: (1) Yosemite and SEKI have not agreed to automatically approve Ursack even if it passes the IGBC test; and (2) By definition, IGBC deals with grizzlies, not black bears. We hope these concerns prove to be irrelevant.
In other news, our new critter resistant Ursack Minor is now available. Woven from Kevlar and stainless steel, it has significantly higher cut resitance than the previous model (and the previous model was no slouch).
Finally, a couple of book and a movie recommendation. All three consider themes of man in nature. I hope soon to be able to sell (or link) to these from our website. In the meanwhile, I highly recommend:
"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. An absorbing account of the author's 1000 mile solo trek on the PCT. This book was just released and has received deservedly high praise.
"A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. Published in 1999, this is a highly readable tale of the author's attempt to rediscover America on the Appalachian Trail.
"The River Why" screenplay by Ursack's founder/CEO (Tom Cohen) and produced by Mrs. Ursack (Kristi Denton Cohen) is available at www.theriverwhy.com (and everywhere else). Sick of living in a home shrouded with secrets, lies and a smothering sense of competition, Gus (Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights) runs away from home and the shadow of his famous fly-fishing father (William Hurt). Determined to live life like on his own terms, Gus makes his new home in a secluded cabin on the banks of a river where he plans to fish all day. Instead, he is propelled into a quest for self-discovery. An assortment of eccentric characters, including a free-spirited girl (Amber Heard, Zombieland) who shares his fondness for fishing, helps him find his way toward adulthood. Based on a book that has become a cult classic and set in the breathtaking wilds of Oregon.
February 20, 2012
Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon (SEKI) responded to our December letter (below). Those Parks have, until further notice, turned over the testing of Ursack to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). If the IGBC certifies Ursack as "bear resistant," it will be allowed in Yosemite and SEKI. However, IGBC has no authority to formally approve containers such as Ursack. Such approval will be periodically reviewed.
Ursack has contacted the IGBC, which informed us that the testing protocol for fabric containers is not finalized and therefore IGBC is not yet ready to accept Ursack for testing. Ursack is, of course, eager to get testing underway. We cannot predict when that will happen.
There is some reason for optimism. Part of the IGBC test for hard sided containers has for years involved giving containers to grizzlies at the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. Ursack informally provided a S29 AllWhite Hybrid (i.e. with aluminum liner) to the Grizzly Discovery Center in September 2011, and it survived a two hour bout with a grizzly. We assume that, generally smaller, black bears are less able to compromise bear resistant containers.
For now,we hope that the IGBC can promptly come up with a fair test for Ursack, and arrange for testing well before this summer.
December 12, 2011
Here is the letter we sent today to the Superintendents of Yosemite, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, Devils Postpile and Olympic National Parks:
It is my understanding that your agencies have, since as early as 2008, stopped accepting bear-resistant food storage containers for evaluation. As you may know, Ursack manufactures bear resistant food bags made for backpackers from bullet proof fabric, and has done so since 2000. Many backpackers prefer to use Ursack over the much heavier hard-sided canisters (e.g. Garcia, BearVault). Since you no longer evaluate canisters, and because previous models of Ursack are not approved, we—along with other innovators and our customers--have been locked out of your Parks. In effect, the government has granted a monopoly to existing manufacturers.
This letter is to ask for one of two solutions.
1. Adopt the policy that has been in effect in Inyo National Forest since 2008. That policy requires that: “visitors must use bear-resistant containers, designed specifically to protect food from bears.” Inyo does not maintain a list of approved containers; OR
2. Promptly institute an evaluation protocol that fairly tests all new products that are submitted. Before final adoption, any protocol should take into account comments from the industry and users.
Of the two options, Ursack greatly prefers the first. There is abundant evidence that the Inyo model works. Here is what our evidence shows.
Ursack began selling the S29 AllWhite in 2009. It is made of the same Spectra material that we used in the (green) S29s in 2008 and earlier. There are two differences: because campers had a hard time tightly cinching the older S29s with aluminum liner—the “S29 Hybrid”—we eliminated the fabric coating and improved the closure mechanism on the AllWhite. The field results over the last three years have been excellent.
With thousands of Ursacks in use around the world, there has not been a single failure of an S29 AllWhite Hybrid ever. Not one.
Even when the S29 AllWhite has been used without the aluminum liner (which is how most campers prefer it), the number of bears that have gotten food rewards in the last three years is miniscule. In 2011 a bear tore a seam at 1000 Island Lake. There was one instance of seam failure in Colorado and another at South Lake Tahoe. In 2010, there was a seam torn by a bear in the Desolation Wilderness, and a minor tear at Mammoth. In 2009, a bear tore a seam at Lake Ediza in Inyo and another bear ripped into an Ursack at Kearsarge Lake. In short, other than the seam failures, even unlined Ursacks have performed well over the last three years. As you know, no bear canisters are perfect. All have failed on occasion.
The seam issue has now been resolved. This fall, while testing the S29 AllWhite Hybrid at the Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone (where the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee tests bear canisters), we discovered that coating the seams with SeamGrip was highly effective. A very large grizzly worked on Ursack for 2 hours without success, which contrasted with an earlier test of a bag with an uncoated seam. As a result, since October, all new Ursacks come with SeamGrip.
In addition to our own successful testing at the Grizzly Discovery Center and the Folsom Zoo, there have been two recent independent successful zoo tests. Wired Magazine tested with a grizzly (and Orangutans) at the Fresno Zoo and wrote about it (comparing it to BearVault) in the March 2010 issue. Patti Sowka, who has worked closely on bear testing with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and others, tested the AllWhite with Arizona bears.
Ultimately, canisters, including Ursack, are not the problem. According to Humboldt State/Kate McCurdy’s comprehensive study of canister use non-compliance (overflow)—the inability or unwillingness of campers to pack all their food into a single canister—is the problem. Backpackers overwhelmingly (87%+) want to comply with the rules, but simply cannot reasonably carry more than one hard-sided canister. The study, commissioned by Yosemite, shows that campers are “sixty times more likely to lose food to a bear if one were to enter their camp while they are out of compliance.”
In short, three years of wilderness experience by actual campers proves that the AllWhite works exceptionally well, and no aluminum lined Ursack S29 AllWhites have ever failed. There is no rational basis to deny campers the right to use Ursack in your Parks.
Please either adopt the Inyo policy or develop a fair testing protocol.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you so that we can address this issue before the 2012 camping season.
May 9, 2011
The federal court of appeals has upheld SIBBG's 2007 decision to ban Ursack's older model (green) S29. In a 26 page published opinion (opinions are only published if the Court thinks they are important), the three appellate justices deferred to the decision making authority of Yosemite and SEKI. A summary of the opinion follows. Notably, the Court did not rule on Yosemite and SEKI's 2010 decision not to test or approve any new products--including the Ursack S29 AllWhite. The Court seemed to suggest that it might be arbitrary and capricious (i.e. wrong) to refuse to evaluate any new or improved bear resistant products, and stated that the remedy for Ursack was to file a new lawsuit. We hope that is not necessary and await the new regulations, if any, coming out of Yosemite and SEKI.
Here is the official summary of the opinion. The full opinion can be read at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2011/05/09/09-17152.pdf:
The court of appeals affirmed a district court judgment. The court held that the National Park Service did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in revoking its conditional approval of a particular manufacturer's portable bear-resistant food container for use in national parks where the agency rationally applied a "three strikes" failure standard and adequately considered associated policy issues.
The National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service required backpackers in certain areas of the Sierras to store food in portable bear-resistant containers. In particular, between 2001 and 2007, both the Park Service and the Forest Service required visitors to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI), and the Inyo National Forest to use containers that had been tested and approved by the agencies.
An informal body known as the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG) tested privately manufactured bear-resistant containers and made recommendations to the Park and Forest Services regarding which containers to approve.
Plaintiff-appellant Ursack, Incorporated manufactured a bear-resistant container called the Ursack. Between 2001 and 2007, it urged SIBBG to recommend the Ursack for inclusion on the agencies’ lists of approved containers. In 2007, SIBBG did recommend that the agencies grant conditional approval to the Ursack for the 2007 summer season. SIBBG recommended that the agencies withdraw approval if they determined that the container failed three or more times during the season.
The agencies accepted the recommendation and granted conditional approval. At the end of the 2007 season, however, SIBBG determined that the Ursack had failed more than three times, and it recommended that the agencies withdraw conditional approval. The National Park Service withdrew conditional approval and refused to permit backpackers to use the Ursack in the container-only areas of Yosemite and SEKI. The Forest Service, however, continued to allow backpackers to use the Ursack in Inyo National Forest.
Ursack and three individual users of the Ursack (Ursack) brought suit pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) against SIBBG, the Park Service, the Forest Service, and the superintendents of the relevant national parks and forests, alleging that the decision to withdraw conditional approval of the Ursack was arbitrary and capricious and otherwise not in accordance with law.
After reviewing the administrative record, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the agencies.
The court of appeals affirmed, holding that Ursack failed to establish that it was entitled to any of the relief it sought.
The court of appeals characterized the central issue on appeal as whether the Park Service's decision to revoke conditional approval of the Ursack was arbitrary and capricious. Ursack also argued that the Park Service violated the "licensing" provisions of the APA, 5 U.S.C. §558.
The court first rejected Ursack's contention that the "three-strike" process failed to consider the larger picture for purposes of the Ursack. Specifically, Ursack argued that SIBBG failed to consider that backpackers might be more likely to use the easy-to-carry, soft-sided Ursack than hard-sided canisters. Ursack maintained that it was better to increase public compliance with food-storage requirements in this way, tolerating some failures each year, than to have a large number of incidents in which bears obtained food because someone decided to store food improperly. The record showed that SIBBG did not entirely fail to consider the benefit of increased compliance against the risk of container failure. It also did not show that SIBBG ignored specific aspects of the issue as framed by Ursack, such as the fact that even within the already-high compliance rate, many backpackers purportedly failed to put their extra, "overflow" food into proper containers.
Nor was there an equal protection violation in use of the "three strikes" standard in revoking approval of Ursack's product. To the extent SIBBG declined to revoke approval of a competing product in 2005 after it suffered a dozen failures, SIBBG concluded that almost all of those failures were caused by a single bear that figured out a means to break into the container. The six failures suffered by the Ursack in 2007, in contrast, did not appear to be caused by the same bear. Deferring to the agency's findings on such matters, the court concluded that the distinction was a rational basis to treat the Ursack differently than the competing product at issue.
It also was not capricious that SIBBG approved Ursacks only if the container were redesigned to eliminate the need to tie it to trees. An evaluation of the Ursack revealed that when it was hung in trees, it resulted in damage to the bark and substrate around the trees. Thus SIBBG's decision to "change course" on the product's eligibility for use in that way was a reasoned one.
Ursack also argued that if visitors could hang food from trees in certain areas of the parks and forests — thereby causing some tree damage — then SIBBG could not rationally prohibit visitors from tying Ursacks to trees in the parts of the parks and forests where tree storage was prohibited. Ursack’s position was that if the Park and Forest Services tolerated tree damage caused by food storage anywhere, they had to tolerate it everywhere.
That was wrong, the court said. A rational basis for SIBBG’s decision was readily apparent. Specifically, although the primary reason for prohibiting tree storage in container-only areas was that bears had learned how to obtain food stored in trees, the prohibition also had the beneficial effect of eliminating tree damage caused by human influences in those areas. In evaluating the Ursack for use in container-only areas, then, SIBBG members were rationally concerned about approving a food-storage container that might reestablish anthropogenic tree damage in areas where it had been eradicated.
Ursack’s other argument was that conditional approval of the Ursack was a “license” within the meaning of the APA, so that SIBBG was required to follow the procedures in §558(c) before revoking conditional approval. Under §558(c), a licensee must receive notice by the agency in writing of the facts or conduct which may warrant the revocation, and an opportunity to demonstrate or achieve compliance with all lawful requirements.
The court disagreed with the suggestion that the Park Service's "approval" necessarily amounted to a license. Ursack did not need the Park Service's approval to manufacture or sell its products. The only consequence to Ursack of SIBBG’s revocation of conditional approval was financial. Even without conditional approval, Ursack could manufacture and sell as many Ursacks as it wished, but the lack of conditional approval would have an impact on the market for its products. Thus, the real question was whether an agency decision that did not grant a form of permission to a member of the public nonetheless qualified as a license due to the decision’s financial consequences.
The court concluded though, that it need not decide whether an APA license existed only where an agency stood as a gate-keeper to a proposed private activity, or whether it also extended to forms of agency approval carrying only financial consequences. Even if Ursack had been granted a license, it was not seeking the kind of process available to licensees under §558(c). Ursack was not asking for notice and a chance to demonstrate or achieve compliance with all lawful requirements. Instead, Ursack wanted to argue with SIBBG over its decision to adopt the relevant lawful requirements in the first place.
To convince SIBBG not to revoke conditional approval, Ursack would have to convince SIBBG to change its licensing criteria. Yet, challenges to licensing criteria are adequately handled through review under the arbitrary and capricious standard, the court wrote.
February 19, 2011
Ursack's lawsuit against the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group et al. was heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on February 17, 2011. The three judge panel appeared quite interested in the controversy, and we would expect a ruling well before the summer camping season. If you want to hear the oral argument, you may do so here: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/view_subpage.php?pk_id=0000007063.
September 27, 2010
Ursack has had an excellent summer camping season with next to no reported failures of the S29 AllWhite in the Sierra. Like all other commercial bear canisters, hard sided or not, perfection is not possible, but we have come close in 2010. There were no reported failures anywhere of any Ursack which used an aluminum liner, and there were only one or two S29 AllWhites that were compromised by bears.
The Wildlife Ecologist at Mt. Ranier National Park arranged for a thoroughly documented test of both the S29 AllWhite and the Ursack Minor against red foxes, an animal that has been presenting problems there. The Mt. Ranier NPS concluded that Ursack was "very successful" and recommended that it be made available for visitor use.
We are still waiting for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the appeal of our case against SIBBG (Yosemite, SEKI and Inyo). Earlier this year, we tried to submit the S29 AllWhite for consideration by Yosemite and SEKI, and were told that those Parks would not consider or test Ursack or any other new product.
January 13, 2010
It appears that Ursack will be allowed almost everywhere in the Sierra this year except Yosemite National Park and three areas (Rae Lakes, Dusy Basin, Rock Creek) of SEKI. We calculate that Ursack may be used on more than 98% of the Pacific Crest Trail. SIBBG, the Sierra Agency Black Bear Group, no longer exists. There are no standardized bear canister tests--each Superintendent of Forest Service Manager makes the decision for his or her own area. While Ursack will likely submit the S29 AllWhite Hybrid for consideration by Yosemite and SEKI, there can be no assurance of approval given those parks lack of testing criteria and/or their historical antipathy toward Ursack.
November 18, 2009
Introducing Ursack Minor for Rodents! Many customers have told us that they camp where there are no bears, but need protection from rats, mice, squirrels, raccoons and other critters. For them, we have a new product, which will be available soon. It's Ursack Minor, a rodent resistant bag made from the same material used by prison guards to thwart ice picks and knives. Our new bag will be the same size as the Ursack S29 AllWhite, but will weigh and cost less. The Ursack Minor will not be effective against bears, but because of its dense weave, it will resist rodents and other critters who have sharp teeth but not the jaw strength of bears.
September 29, 2009
Ursack has appealed the U.S. District Court decision upholding SIBBG's 2007 ban on Ursack to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. There are several grounds for the appeal--most notably: there are facts underlying the District Court decision that are either wrong or misconstrued. Typically, an appeal can take a year to be decided.
Meanwhile, there is good news. The new S29 AllWhite Hybrid (with aluminum liner) had a perfect record in 2009. There were no reported failures of the Hybrid anywhere in the world. The 2008 record for the S29 (Green) Hybrid is almost as good. One camper reported a failure--but that was through the opening, where he had failed to cinch and knot it completely tight. It appears that Inyo has changed its policy with regard to regulated canisters, and now requires that "visitors must use containers designed to prevent access to bears." This is different than past years where only specified canisters could be used. We do not have official confirmation of this change, but the Inyo website and reports from campers indicate that it is accurate.
August 10, 2009
Ursack lost its lawsuit against SIBBG and Yosemite, SEKI and Inyo. In a 42 page decision, the U.S. District Court determined that the defendants' 2007 decision to withdraw approval of the Ursack S29 Hybrid was not arbitrary, capricious or unconstitutional. Ursack argued that the decision was unfair because it was based on six alleged failures and such failure standard is not applied to other canisters. Only one of these alleged failures involved torn fabric, and that was in a ranger-baited bag in Yosemite Valley where no canisters of any kind are allowed. Yosemite refused to provide that evidence or even send a picture. All the other "failures" involved user's failure to cinch and knot the opening completely tight. The new S29 AllWhite is designed to make it easier to cinch the opening, but the efficacy of our new model was not before the Court. Government agencies, such as SIBBG, are given broad discretion to make decisions, and a decision is only overturned when there is no rational basis for it. Although Ursack disagrees with some of the Court's logic and its conclusion, the opinion was extremely well researched and written. We have not decided whether or not to appeal.
June 3, 2009
It appears that settlement with federal officials is unlikely. Ursack's case is scheduled to be argued in a motion for summary judgment on July 31, 2009. It is impossible to predict when the court will render a decision or what that decision will be.
March 5, 2009
There has been some movement in Ursack's lawsuit against federal officials. The parties and their lawyers met in San Francisco on February 27, 2009. Some progress was made, but at this time there is no determination if Ursack will be approved for use in Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks, or Inyo National Forest in 2009. All parties are continuing to work toward a prompt resolution. Updates will be posted here as appropriate.
August 20, 2008
The lawsuit against SIBBG is proceeding very slowly. There will be no decision before the late fall of 2008, and therefore no chance of SIBBG approval for this camping season. Please be aware that there are many many places you can legally use Ursack in the Sierra--including Sequoia-Kings Canyon, Inyo and parts of Yosemite. Please check the map at sierrawildbear.gov for specifics. That map also shows where the parks have placed bear boxes. If you only camp in unrestricted areas or use bear boxes, you can carry Ursack anywhere. Depending on how far you can hike in a day, and if you carefully select your campsite, it is even possible to legally hike most, if not all, of the John Muir Trail carrying only an Ursack to protect bears from getting human food.
April 4, 2008
Ursack has reluctantly, but resolutely, filed suit against the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG) asking the court to reverse what we believe is SIBBG's arbitrary and capricious decision to withdraw approval of the Ursack S29 Hybrid. We are joined in this suit by some representative backpackers including: a former Tuolomne Meadows ranger, a college chemistry professor, and the holder of the record for the fastest self-contained female solo of the John Muir Trail. There is no way to predict, at this point, when or how the case will be resolved, but it is at least possible that Ursacks will once again be allowed in the restricted areas of the Sierra this summer.
The lawsuit does not seek money. Instead, it asks that Ursack be evaluated objectively, and that backpackers' needs be factored into any decision that prohibits the use of Ursack or any other product. SIBBG's decision to ban Ursack was based on the allegation of 6 failures. There is no such thing as a bear "proof" container. All canisters have failed at one time or another. SIBBG refuses to produce evidence of these alleged Ursack failures, but we know from SIBBG's written description that in two cases bears got no food, and in two cases the problem was user error--the Ursacks were not torn and could be effectively used again today. Because we don't have the evidence, we don't know what happened in the other two incidents.
There is an analogy is to auto crash testing. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA), a federal agency, tests cars for rollover resistance. It does so because nearly 10,000 people are killed each year as a result of rollovers. The test they devised was based on input from a variety of scientific sources, and the results of that test are a rating system from one to five stars for each vehicle. There is no requirement that manufacturers meet a certain standard. Rather, the government relies on consumers to protect their own interests once the rollover information is provided.
By contrast, SIBBG is a federal advisory group that tests containers for bear resistance. It does so in order to minimize bear-human conflict. The test they devised is largely subjective. As opposed to vehicle rollovers, no black bear has killed a Sierra camper and injuries are extremely rare. By far the biggest reason bears get human food is not failed canisters, it is campers' inability to store all their food in a single canister. But SIBBG does not test canisters for practicality, it tests them for impregnability. This is a little like a stage coach company in the old West touting the strength of its safe while ignoring the fact the that the safe can't hold all the gold.
There is not enough space here to detail all of the arbitrary and capricious decisions SIBBG has made over the years with regard to Ursack. We hope to resolve this quickly and amicably so that backpackers can use the equipment they want, while giving adequate protection to bears.
January 1, 2008.
The Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG) has withdrawn its conditional approval of the Ursack S29 Hybrid (Ursack with aluminum liner) for 2008. Ursack is challenging this decision. There appears to be scant evidence to suggest that the S29 Hybrid had a significant number of product failures in 2007. The nature of Ursackï¿½s challenge has not been finalized because we are waiting for SIBBG to provide us with the specific evidence on which it based its decision. From what we know so far, user error was the sole cause of three incidents in which bears got food. In those cases, users did not cinch the opening completelyï¿½they failed to remove all slack in the cinch cord and did not tie a secure knot. We understand that SIBBGï¿½s decision is exasperating for our loyal customers. It is even more trying for us. We cannot run a business in which our only product is reviewed year after year by a government agency making arbitrary and capricious decisions about what equipment a camper may or may not use in the wilderness. We respect the Sierra Rangers and much of the work they do, and have no desire to file an unnecessary lawsuit. But it seems that may be the only way to bring this see saw existence to a halt. Because the situation is fluid, we are changing our return policy. Customers may return any new, unused, Ursack for a full refund within one year of purchase. We hope that approval will be reinstated by SIBBG, and that customers will hold onto their purchases until the situation is resolved.
May 9, 2007.
There is a very interesting and thorough study by Kate McCurdy--a former Yosemite (bear) ranger. This was Kate's master's thesis. Her thesis compiled and analyzed survey results from 568 Yosemite backpackers. The backpackers were, by a large majority, supportive of Park canister requirements. But, nearly 40% were unable to fully comply with those requirements and had to leave some food/toiletries unprotected on one or more nights. Among the significant factors preventing full compliance were the weight and bulk of hard sided canisters. "In roughly half" of the (108) bear encounters reported by survey respondents in 2005, bears got "substantial food rewards." In other words, there were roughly 50 incidents in Yosemite alone in which bears got food rewards even though the vast majority of campers were using approved canisters. It was not that those canisters failed, it was that the campers were unable or unwilling to fully comply with regulations. This number from Yosemite absolutely dwarfs the amount of food rewards bears got from failed canisters anywhere in the entire Sierra, whether those canisters were made by Ursack or other manufacturers. If SIBBG's goal is to prevent bears from getting food rewards, it would seem their time would be better spent addressing the non-compliance issue and less time evaluating the Ursack S29, a product which due to its light weight and compressibility, makes it easier for backpackers to do the right thing.