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Clean Camp

Lifesaving action in grizz county

Published online: Apr 03, 2024 East Idaho Outdoors, Articles Kris Millgate
Viewed 337 time(s)

In matching khakis and t-shirts with bear spray holstered on their hips, the Kuffer’s walk through a campground in Island Park. Linda and Gary are a retired couple from Pennsylvania. They’re volunteering in Idaho for the summer. Their reason for stopping at every campsite is motivated by the art on their shirts. It’s a grizzly. They’re looking for clean camps in bear country.

We don’t touch anything, but we look at the campsite to see if they have anything out that they shouldn’t have,” says Linda Kuffer, grizzly bear safety educator, while assessing a campsite littered with sand toys, snacks and soggy shorts drying on the back of a lawn chair. “If we find anything, we leave them a note and explain to them that this is a violation of the food storage order.”

Blatant violators can be fined $180 by the forest ranger, but that rarely happens. Most camps are clean. Of the 1,177 camps the Kuffers inspected in one summer, only six were considered blatant failures. Camps that entice bears are not as common today thanks to campground educators, but there are still some blunders.

The most common mistake is the camp trailer door. Campers clear their picnic table but leave the door of their camp trailer open, fresh air floating in, while they’re away. A screen door might as well be a delicate veil when a bear sticks his claw through it. He’ll get everything in the cupboards before you return from your hike.

We leave little notes that say, ‘You have a perfectly clean camp, but your camper door isn’t closed so therefore nothing in there is secure.” Linda says while putting four stones on her note so it won’t blow off the wooden picnic table.

Linda is friendly and she’s a rule follower. It’s easy to admire her tenacity. When campers tell her she’s not welcome in their site, she still addresses them from the street next to their site.

Ninety-nine percent of the people are very gracious and very open and appreciative and they thank us for doing our job.” She says as she walks from unoccupied campsite 36 to occupied campsite 37. “Occasionally you get someone that really would rather you weren’t there, but we get in their face anyways.”

She and her husband leapfrog through campgrounds issuing advice and clean camp awards as they go. They’re methodical, educational and optimistic. Despite overflowing dumpsters in some resort towns within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, we’re making progress. More people keep clean camps and more people carry bear spray. But more people are also playing here, hiking, paddling, picking berries. More people around makes it harder for bears to navigate around us. It’s harder to avoid us. There are more people here than there were half a century ago. More bears too. The former was inevitable. The latter is a miracle.


East Idaho Outdoors 10 Year Anniversary 

I’m Having An Affair 

Spring 2015

This story about Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains is the only story I’ve ever written as a sonnet and that’s why it’s my favorite 10-year Ridges feature. It’s also the only story that made readers feel sorry for my husband. They thought I was really having an affair and I was, but it was with a mountain not a man.”

-Kris Millgate, EIO editor


EIO editor Kris Millgate’s newest wildlife film, On Grizzly Ground, is available now along with her third behind-the-scenes book, My Place Among Beasts. Both the film and the book highlight grizzly recovery in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes eastern Idaho.

The half-hour documentary offers clean camp guidelines discussed in this story while the book goes behind every shot in the film. Read and watch both at home by ordering signed copies of the book and virtual movie ticket for the film at ongrizzlyground.com.


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