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Montana outfitter wants bear rules relaxed

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SHERIDAN, Mont. (AP) - An outfitter is trying to persuade the U.S. Forest Service to rescind or relax rules requiring backcountry users in this area to keep food away from bears.

Allen Schallenberger calls the rules unreasonable and contends they are being pushed by a radical environmental agenda intended to drive people off public lands.

"They've gone overboard on these rules, it's just ridiculous," Schallenberger said. "It doesn't make sense when you have such few bears."

The requirements took effect last year in the Gravelly, Tobacco Root and Snowcrest mountains of southwestern Montana. Biologists were documenting an increasing number of grizzly bears in the Gravelly and Snowcrest mountains, and the animals will only get in trouble if they come in contact with food intended for humans, said Jack de Golia, spokesman for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The Tobacco Roots aren't considered grizzly habitat, but have a healthy population of black bears.

De Golia said the rules are intended to protect not only bears, but humans, and he notes that similar rules have been in place in the Madison Range since 1987 and are not uncommon on other federal lands frequented by bears.

"They're not particularly burdensome," de Golia said. "To me they're common sense - you don't want your food or your carcass to draw bears into your tent."

The rules, among other things, require backcountry users to store food in trees or use bear-proof containers. Hunters are also required to move their game meat away from gut piles, hang the meat when it's in camp, or keep it at least half a mile from camp or 200 yards from trails.

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Schallenberger said he has been writing the Forest Service and members of Congress, asking that the rules be changed or dropped.

He said the area has had fewer than half a dozen bear problems over the past decade, hardly enough of a problem to support the need for the regulation.

"I like grizzly bears, but I don't like bureaucrats causing problems," he said.

Mark Petroni, Madison District ranger for the forest, disputed Schallenberger's claim that there aren't enough bears throughout the ranges to justify the rule. This week, a hunter found his camp in shambles after a bear ravaged the wall tent, searching for food.

Petroni has visited more than 50 hunting camps and said everybody is trying to comply with the order. He is distributing pamphlets explaining the rule and isn't citing people for violations unless they continually ignore the order, Petroni said.

Despite Schallenberger's campaign, Petroni said the rule isn't going away.

"There are legitimate reasons for those orders," he said. "They weren't just invented."

The forest has bear-proof containers available at the Ennis office for free check-out by the public.

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