Bears live in just about every area of the United States where there is wilderness – mountains, forests, and even grasslands. With the influx of people visiting these areas, bear sightings are becoming more frequent. What attracts bears to people? It happens to be that bears are attracted to areas where people have defecated in the woods (or grasslands) and urinated on trees, bushes, rocks, or anywhere there is a spot. Utah Division of Wildlife Resource emphasizes that bear incidents have more than doubled in 2019. Might be due to the wet spring or the number of hikers in the forest and using the trees as a “marked spot.” The Division says, “Stop feeding the bears, stop defecating in the woods, and don’t mark trees with urine.”
Are bears attracted to human urine and feces?
A statement from the US National Forest services sounds a resounding “Yes”, bears are attracted to human urine and feces. You have to do your business somewhere, but the best place is away from your campsite or even pee into a bottle or container and bury it or dispose of it when you leave your campsite. When you need to go number two, don’t do it anywhere near your campsite. Dig a hole and squat. Cover the hole and stamp it down with your foot. Do this at least 100’ away from camp and 100’ from water sources. Remember other good practices to keep bears out of your camp and if you have to go in the woods, bury it deep.
It is an “old wives’ tale” that marking your campsite is a good way to keep bears from crossing into your camp. After all, no bear would cross into a “marked” site. Not so. Urine odor attracts bears. Human feces is even more attractive to bears. Rangers tell campers that your feces and the toilet paper you use or the tampons women use are harmful to the bear’s digestive system. Seriously, there are stories where a bear has died after eating human waste, including toilet paper.
“Leave No Trace” is the best advice for bear safety. It is important to note that when you enter the bear country, you are entering someone else’s home. When you are a guest a friends house, you are usually respectful. You don’t defecate or urinate wherever you want; so, do be respectful in the woods. “Leave no trace” means burying your human waste.
You know that food will attract neighborhood bears to lunch or dinner. Did you also know that several other items bring bears to your camp?
- Human Waste. Urine and feces are known to attract bears. It is best to set up your bathroom away from your camp. Make sure your waste is stored in an odor-proof bag whenever you can. Use provided latrines when you see them. As yucky as an outdoor latrine is, it’s better than leaving waste for a bear to find.
- Perfumes, lotions, toothpaste, and deodorants can interest a bear. They smell fascinating, and a clever bear will investigate. Leave scented objects in a bear bag and hang them high up in a tree or keep them in a bear-proof canister.
- Bears have great memories. Black bears remember previous food and waste sites. They go back to original food sources, including human waste areas, after several years. Once a bear has dug up a bathroom site, it will find that spot and dig at it up a second time. (This information from a US Forest Service Ranger who is familiar with bear habits.)
We wrote an article all about how to store food in bear country. Check it out- How to store food in bear country.
Ways to Dispose of Human Waste
The best way to do your business is to walk away from your campsite, bury it deep, and cover it with sticks and leaves. When nature calls and you must go number two – no latrines are around – dig a hole 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) deep and squat above the whole. When you’re finished with your business, cover up the hole, pile leaves, and sticks on it and stamp it down with your foot. Do your business at least 100 feet or 30.5 meters away from any water source.
Listed below are some other steps recommended by seasoned backpackers. These easy steps keep bears out of your vicinity when you poo.
- Walk 70 steps away from campsites, animal tracks, and water.
- Dig down at deep as the length of your hand.
- Wipe your butt with unbleached toilet paper, leaves, or bark.
- Dispose of paper, leaves or bark in the hole.
- Cover your poo with soil and leaves and fill up the hole to the top.
If you are camping for more than one night in a single spot or are with a large group, find a single toilet place and dig a hole deep enough to cope with everyone’s “business.” Cover it up to keep bears away. Another way that will keep bears at bay is to use a compostable container as a latrine and use it to get your waste to a long-drop provided toilet or a composting spot.
Do Not Dispose of your feces in these places:
- Flush toilets
- Motor home dump stations
- Containment-vault toilets
- Left out in the open
- Rubbish bins or landfills.
Improperly bagged or left out in the open poo can spread diseases.
Building a Camping Latrine
An outdoor bathroom or cat-hole latrine is one of the most important parts of a primitive campsite. In many popular wilderness camping sites, there are basic toil sites (seat-mounted cone covered pits), but there are more occasions where you will need to dig your facilities.
Cat-hole latrines are the most common type of wildness bathroom. The simplest is a hole the size of what a cat digs when they need to go. Usually, these cat-hold latrines are 6” wide and deep and have minimal depression. After using this type of latine, bury your waste! Burying human waste can’t be emphasized enough.
Find an area about 100’ from your campsite, or water source and make sure the soil is healthy and rich in organic material like pine cones, leaves or pine needles. Once you use the hole, fill it with the excavated soil and cover with forest floor detritus. Remove your soiled paper and carry it out. Buying soiled toilet paper can be okay in an emergency, but the soiled paper is dangerous for bears.
If you are ambitious, build a more permanent latrine by digging a deep hole, add a sitting platform that will help you “hit the hole” accurately. Build a modest sitting frame using lashed tree limbs and logs and include a place to hang your toilet paper roll. Again, when you are finished with your outdoor latrine, bury it.
Ways to Make Your Campsite Bearproof
Be proactive when setting up your camp. You can’t make it totally “bear-proof” but following some tips and tricks will help keep you safer.
First and foremost remove as many things as you can from your camp that might be attractive to a roving bear. Smell is the primary sense that drives bears to your campsite. This includes peeing on trees an rocks (and the fire) as well as food smells. According to the American Bear Association, black bears have a sense of smell that is seven times more powerful than a dog’s. A bear can detect odors from more than a mile away – and that includes urine and feces.
- Choose a campsite that is upwind of where your food stores, cooking area, and latrine will be. Watch for a site that has any bar sign and stays away from their natural food sources like berry patches.
- Use the “bear-muda triangle” plan for your camp. This strategy means distancing your sleeping area away from food and cooking areas.
- Make sure there is a suitable tree where you can hang your food stores. The food bags should be waterproof and odor-free and as far away from a bear’s paws as you can get it. Bears have good memories, and if they access your food bag once, they will come back to your site.
- Keep your cooking and eating areas cleaned up. If you wait even a few moments to clean up, smells in your cooking and eating areas can be carried in the wind.
- No food should be allowed in your tent! No snacks, no energy bars, no toothpaste, or no clothes that you used to cook your food. A curious bear can smell any food inside a tent.
- It is common in scout camps for scouts to go right outside their tents and urinate. Urinating near or on your tent is not a good idea. All scouts and others who camp in the woods should be taught this is a dangerous practice. Bears can smell urine and will come to investigate. One scouter heard a bear sniffing around his tent after he went outside to pee. Nothing happened, but this was a bear attack just waiting to happen.
Camping in the backwoods is exciting. Note, however, that this is not your home and wildlife is curious about what you are doing. Bears are attracted to smells, and the smells of feces and urinating are strong and last for a long time. Be respectful. Using the woods as your bathroom will cause bears to be attracted to where you are and interacting wth humans can cause the death of a bear, and of course, of a human.