OREM — One Utah family’s campsite was ransacked by an unexpected visitor, and wildlife officials said their story was a good safety reminder for everyone playing outside.
“It was just the perfect spot, there was so much shade and it was very secluded,” said Katie Tingey, describing the camping spot her husband and children found near Currant Creek in Heber Valley. “It’s a little bit past Strawberry Reservoir.”
The Tingeys said they liked the site’s seclusion in light of the pandemic’s social distancing restrictions. It was hard for the family to find a spot with the influx of campers, so they decided to leave their gear once they found a spot.
“We thought OK, we can leave our stuff here, so we could come back up this week. We just wanted to reserve that spot because it was so good,” Tingey said.
The Tingeys said they returned home Saturday night. Katie Tingey initially planned to return to the site with her two children on Monday and her husband, Nick Tingey, would catch up later in the week.
However, Nick Tingey said they felt uneasy about his wife being alone with the children, and the couple decided to wait until they could go up together.
The family made their way back to the site on Wednesday to a surprising discovery — their campsite was turned upside down.
“At first, we thought oh did it get windy maybe our tent got torn from the window,” said Katie Tingey.
But it wasn’t the wind that had passed through the site — it was a bear.
“As we got closer we saw that there were claw marks and everything was kind of ripped and cans of soda had been eaten, torn apart,” she said.
The unexpected visitor even left behind their signature — muddy paw marks around the tent.
“So we realized oh, OK, we missed a bear attack,” said Tingey.
This is what’s left of an Orem family’s 🏕 after a visit up near Currant Creek... Story about the 🐻-y unexpected visitor at 6 on @KSL5TV... BTW- if you spot our pal or need tips on #BearAware-ness, visit @UtahDWR or https://t.co/u1FJX09mWYpic.twitter.com/ampSl684Fd— Garna Mejia KSL (@GarnaMejiaKSL) July 24, 2020
Tingey said she’s a diabetic and they decided to leave a few closed cans of root beer and Gatorade at the campsite, in case of an emergency.
“It never crossed my mind that having unopened root beer outside of a tent would attract a bear,” she said. “He ripped all the cans apart and drank all the root beer.”
The bear even found his way inside the tent where he clawed through a can of bug spray.
“There was spray all over the tent’s wall,” Tingey said. “And then [I think] he was stuck, and maybe that’s why he ripped his way out.”
Tonya Kieffer-Selby, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conservation outreach manager, said they’ve actually had fewer bear sightings this year. But recreationists need to be aware of the smells they bring into their campsite.
“Things you wouldn’t think bears want to eat include deodorant, toothpaste, sunscreen, bug spray,” Kieffer-Selby said, adding the scent of bug spray or soda in the closed can would be enough to pique a bear’s interest.
“If you leave anything that has any kind of smell there is a possibility a bear will investigate what you have,” Kieffer-Selby said. “We need to be ‘Bear-Aware’ — this includes putting away all food away from the campsite. If you left a pillow and sleeping bag they might not be as interested in that because there isn’t enough scent. But if you leave something with scent, that’s something they will want to investigate.”
Kieffer-Selby said they’ve posted flyers near the campsite to alert other recreationists and are looking for the bear. Once caught, they’re hoping to relocate the bear.
“Our priority is the public’s safety. We hope this is an isolated incident,” she said. “As long as the bear hasn’t lost its fear of humans, we can find another place for them to explore.”
As for the Tingeys, they said they will be waiting a bit before visiting the site. But they hope to continue exploring the mountains this summer, and they’re hoping to buy a replacement tent.
DWR officials asked anyone who spots the sneaky bear to file a report and make sure to avoid leaving behind any treats for the animal.
DWR officials have also set up a new website with more information.
DWR bear awareness tips
Bear-proof your food and supplies
Store your food, snacks and scented items (such as deodorant and toothpaste) in an area where a bear can’t get to them. Do not leave them out on tables or keep them in your tent. Storing them in a locked trailer or locking them in the trunk of your car are both good options. Storing food and scented items in these areas will reduce the chance that a bear smells them. And, if a bear does make its way to the area where you’re staying, if it isn’t rewarded with food, it will likely move on.
Keep your cooking area clean
After you’ve finished eating, thoroughly clean utensils and anything else that was used to prepare or eat the food. Don’t dump oil or grease from pots or pans onto the ground. Instead, put the oil or grease in a container, and take it home with you. By keeping your campsite or cabin area clean, you reduce the chance that a bear will smell food and trash, and be lured to your camp.
Keep your campsite clean
Don’t leave food scraps and other trash scattered around your campsite or cabin area. Instead, put it in trash bags, and take it home with you. Make sure to wipe down picnic tables and keep the area free of food and other debris. Always keep your campsite or cabin area clean because a dirty campsite can attract bears long after you’ve left.
“If a bear visits the area after you leave and then someone comes into that area to camp, you’ve created a potentially dangerous situation,” DeBloois said.
Never feed a bear
This may seem like common sense, but it’s worth noting. Although bear cubs may seem cute, you should absolutely never feed one — or an adult bear for that matter. They are wild animals and natural predators.
Once a bear loses its fear of people, wildlife biologists and conservation officers are left with something they dread: having to euthanize an animal to keep people safe. By not providing a bear with food, you can help keep it safe too.
“We got into the wildlife profession because we love wildlife,” said DWR game mammals coordinator Darren DeBloois. “We enjoy managing and protecting animals so Utahns can get outdoors and enjoy them. Having to euthanize an animal — because someone didn’t do something as simple as keeping their campsite clean and storing food in a secure area — is tough. Please don’t put us in that situation.”
Bear-proof your outdoor garbage cans
Many bear reports the DWR receives involve bears getting into trash cans or dumpsters in neighborhoods and cabins. Make sure to store your trash in a secure location or bear-proof container. If you don’t have access to a bear-safe garbage can or dumpster, make sure to store your garbage can in your garage and put it out for pick up in the morning, rather than the night before. Also, make sure to clean your trash container regularly to eliminate some of the odors that attract bears.
Remove items that will attract a bear to your house
Utah is bear country, and especially so if you live in the foothills or other mountainous parts of the state. It is important to properly secure or clean yard items that may attract a bear. Some of these include:
- Birdfeeders (both seed and hummingbird)
- Fruit trees
- Compost piles
- Pet food and water bowls
- Unsupervised outdoor pets (especially at night)
- Barbecue grills
Know what to do if you encounter a black bear
- Stand your ground. Never back up, lie down or play dead. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave. Prepare to use your bear spray or another deterrent.
- Don’t run away or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph — you cannot outclimb or outrun them.
- Know bear behavior. If a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive. These are the ways a bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.
- If a black bear attacks, always fight back. And never give up! People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.