Spring 2011

[Alumni News]

Bear-Proof?

Student Tests Wilderness Food Containers

Kate McCurdy Kate McCurdy – Photo Courtesy of Kate McCurdy.

IN THE OLDYOGI BEAR cartoons, you had to be “smarter than the average bear” to steal a camper’s food. But Kate McCurdy (‘06, M.S. NRPI), found that improperly stored food can attract even the average bear to a backpacker’s campsite.

In 2004, when Yosemite National Park began requiring backpackers in certain areas to use bear-resistant food canisters, McCurdy, a bear biologist at the park, was confronted with the question of whether the canisters were actually effective. She came to work with Steve Martin at Humboldt State to try and find the answer. Recently, the findings of her thesis research were published in the peer-reviewed journal, International Journal of Wilderness.

“Kate understood the biology part of it. She realized she needed to understand the human dimension better,” Martin says. “This study is a really good example of what we do well in this department—at the graduate level, but also the undergraduate level—we bridge the natural sciences and the social sciences really well.”

Data relating to park visitors’ uses of and attitudes toward bear canisters were collected using trailhead and internet-based surveys. From that information, McCurdy found that bear-resistant food canisters could be very effective if used properly. However, she found that overflow or improper use limited the containers’ effectiveness.

After McCurdy completed her thesis, she and Martin produced a pair of articles: one focuses on theory and the other on application.

“It has such useful implications for public land managers. It looks at how canisters are being used and what the issues are, and makes a number of concrete recommendations” Martin says. “We know now that simply requiring bear-resistant food canisters isn’t enough. That’s a real useful piece of information.”