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Fire and Food Storage

7/31/21 – As we slide into August in the northwoods, we are happy to report that the Beth Lake fire has been designated as “out” by the Forest Service. A quick response from firefighters and some key water drops from the helicopter resulted in little to no disruption to travel in the area. While two new small fires were detected in the BWCA yesterday, there remains no threat to the Sawbill area from any existing fires.

The air quality hasn’t been terrible, Kit and Huck are still enjoying their walks on the Sawbill Trail.

The drought has further reaching effects than just fire danger. A late season frost and the lack of rain has resulted in a very poor berry crop. The lack of natural foods has driven wildlife to seek food sources wherever they can. That, and the number of well-intentioned but un-informed campers bringing inappropriate food storage containers (think coolers) in the BWCA has resulted in some increased bear encounters. We have had very few reports of bears in the Sawbill area this season (only one instance of a bear getting into an unattended cooler on Pipe Lake), but other parts of the Wilderness are now dealing with “problem” bears who have been rewarded by easily stealing people food and are now seeking it out. As a result, there is now a food storage order issued by the Forest Service for the entire Superior National Forest, including the BWCAW.

The order states that visitors in the Forest must secure their food in one of two ways:

  1. Using a bear canister or bear-resistant container and securing it at least 50 feet away from your tent; or
  2. Hanging your food pack at least 12 feet above the ground, and six feet horizontally from an pole or limb, and four feet vertically from any pole or limb.

While these are always the best practices, the fact that it is now an order means you can be ticketed and fined for not following these protocols. Leaving a cooler sitting out on your picnic table, even while you’re sitting nearby in your screen tent, could result in a ticket. If you are car camping, you should plan to store all your food in your hard-sided vehicle when you aren’t actively eating or cooking. Other ways to help avoid an unwanted bear encounter are to keep a clean campsite, make sure there are no fragrant foods spilled on the ground, keep your food condensed and packed in one place and secured whenever you aren’t using it, and clean and dispose of fish remains well away from your campsite. If you are camping in the Boundary Waters, DO NOT bring in a cooler. They are impossible to properly secure and very enticing for bears.

While we aren’t picking berries at our favorite patches this season, there are a few bushes around the campground that provide a sweet treat.

Here at Sawbill we secure our dumpsters at 9pm every night, and reopen them at 7am. This way, when we aren’t actively monitoring them overnight, the bears can’t help themselves to a smorgasbord of trash. Plan to dump your trash before 9pm, or keep it in your car until the next morning! Thanks to the diligence of our crew and visitors, we are glad to report no bear issues at Sawbill this season, but we’ll have to continue working together to keep it that way.