With an ongoing drought leaving bears without berries and other natural foods, Superior National Forest officials are cracking down on campers who aren’t keeping their people food away from bears.

Forest officials on Friday said they are mandating proper food storage for campers starting immediately, with people now required to store any food items in their vehicle or, if camping remotely, hanging from a tree or in bear-proof containers.

Violations of the food storage rule are subject to fines of up to $5,000. The exceptions to the new rule are food that is being prepared for meals or during meals.

While it’s long been common practice to hang food packs in trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and other remote campsites — 12 feet up and 6 feet from the trunk — the new rule makes it mandatory. In drive-to campsites, storing food in vehicles is considered acceptable. Another option is bear-proof containers, which are available at some camping supply stores and outfitters.

The new rule comes as more people are camping and encountering more bears, said Cheron Ferland, Superior National Forest wildlife biologist. Ferland says the rise in bear/human interactions this summer is in part due to a new Forest Service policy asking people to report bear sightings but "also because there are more visitors on the landscape and the fact that we are in an extreme drought, which has led to a poor berry crop."

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Reports this summer include bears at individual campsites, bears digging in dumpsters at campgrounds or other facilities, and bears stealing backpacks and coolers.

“This is bear-country, people are going to see black bears. They live here. That’s not concerning to me,’’ Ferland said in a statement on the new regulation. “But bears at dumpsters, lingering at campsites and stealing packs is. Once they get a reward, or food, they will keep doing whatever it takes to get that reward again.”

If a bear becomes a nuisance and continues interacting with humans, officials said the bear will be killed.

“We don’t want it to get to that point, and we want to limit the number of bears that are considered a nuisance. That’s what this food storage order is all about — taking proactive steps,” Ferland said.

Drought hits Northland in many ways

So far this summer, bear problem areas in the Superior National Forest include Rose Lake, Duncan Lake and Daniel Lake on the Gunflint Ranger District; the Moose Lake Chain and several drive-to campgrounds including Birch Lake, Fall Lake and Fenske Lake on the Kawishiwi Ranger District; and Agnes Lake on the La Croix District.

"Storing food in the car is better than outside in a nonbear-proof container, but there have been a couple reports of bears breaking into vehicles this year and stealing coolers and food,'' said Joanna Gilkeson, spokeswoman for the Superior National Forest. "If a bear knows that coolers mean food, and they see a cooler, they'll go for it. There are some bear-resistant food coolers out there which is probably the best practice for car-camping."