Bear cannisters and face masks

It started with a tweet just a few weeks ago:

“The temporary backcountry camping closure is now expanded due to multiple incidents of one or more black bears obtaining food from backpackers.”

And with that, a year of planning was out the window. The entire backcountry wilderness of Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California was closed to overnight camping. So much for our carefully-planned and long-awaited six-day backpacking trip.

There had been multiple reports from visitors of bears going into backpackers’ campsites and searching backpacks for food. This only happens if bears are sometimes successful and actually find food. But that would never occur if backpackers followed the park’s strict regulations about using “bear cannisters” to hold all food and scented items, putting those bear cannisters 100 feet away from camp overnight, and keeping no food in backpacks.

However, due to a small number of backpackers who choose to act like the rules don’t apply to them, the bears (which are quite clever) learned that backpacks might have food. Unlike some places (such as Yosemite Valley) where such bear “training” has been a problem for many years, at Lassen this is a significant shift.

The bears probably originally followed their keen sense of smell to find food which was foolishly left in a backpack. That find was enough for the bears to associate backpacks with food. The closure is expected to last for at least a few months to “un-train” the bears and get them to return to foraging for their natural food sources. Given the chilly fall weather and chance of early snow in the mountains, this will likely mean no backpacking in Lassen for anyone until next spring.

Why did this happen? A small number of people flaunted the simple and common-sense rules about backpacking in bear country. In so doing, they not only put themselves at risk, but also put others at risk of serious injury or even death. Additionally, the fallout of their actions is affecting untold numbers of us who have been planning, anticipating and training for our backpacking trips.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is over 500 miles from Carpinteria. But can you think of another situation we are experiencing right now that bears any resemblance to what I described in Lassen? 

For our own safety, for the safety of those around us, and for the safety of the entire community, we are required to stay at least six feet away from people we do not live with, and we are required to wear masks in most indoor public places, and outdoors when we cannot stay six feet away from others.

Distancing and wearing a mask can be a bit of a nuisance (as is using a bear cannister), but it’s really not that difficult. The possible outcome of ignoring the simple and common-sense rules is continued spread of Covid-19 through our community putting people’s health and lives at risk, and extending the time until children can safely return to school, friends can socialize, and we can again greet each other with a handshake or a hug.

I am surprised how often I am on sidewalks or trails that are not six feet wide, and I pass someone with a mask under their chin, in their hand, or with no mask at all. Or I see people wearing masks but standing or walking shoulder-to-shoulder as if the mask is a magic talisman that is guaranteed to ward off the evil coronavirus. (Wearing a mask does not take the place of physical distancing.)

Even in the pages of the Coastal View News, just about every week there is at least one photo of some group of people not following state and county rules. Every one of these examples is documentation of a potential extension of how long this crisis will last.

Backpackers need to take bear safety seriously, and if we don’t, entire parks can be closed. This is true even though there are only about 40 attacks per year by bears globally and around six deaths per year.

Worldwide, there are now over 18 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 700,000 deaths. Abiding by distancing and mask requirements seem like rather obvious steps to take.

If it helps, think of coronavirus as being a hungry bear; if you don’t physically distance and wear a mask, that hungry bear might come after you.

Role models

Think about someone who has been a role model for you at some point in your life. It may be a parent or a teacher, an older brother or sister, possibly a mentor at work, or maybe someone you never even met, but who inspired you to accomplish something. How might things have been different for you without the influence of that role model?

I firmly believe that something that makes Carpinteria special is that we have more than our share of positive role models – people who generously give their time, their experience, their skills or their money for the benefit of our community.

Just browsing through the Coastal View News or scanning Facebook or Nextdoor presents us with multiple examples of our neighbors going above and beyond what is “required.” Examples are often easy to see in the activities of our wonderful service clubs and amazing volunteer organizations. We are lucky that so many local businesses provide extra service when needed or generously support local causes.

Less visible are the everyday actions of individuals. For every Coastal View News “Halo,” there are many, many other examples of friends and even strangers, modeling what it means to be a “neighbor” by helping someone right when they need it.

We may think of a role model as someone whose entire life or cumulative accomplishments are worthy long-term goals for us. But consider the potential effect of a single small action. When I see someone help an elderly stranger separate a stuck shopping cart from the corral at the supermarket entrance, I am reminded to notice when someone is struggling with something I can easily help with. That simple helpful action will stick with me for more than a moment and provide me an example I can copy.

Now let’s turn things around a bit. Some drivers who see others driving 70 MPH through the freeway construction zone may not be as careful about the 55 MPH speed limit. If multiple people walking down Linden Avenue drop pieces of trash on the sidewalk, some who see that behavior may be less careful about not littering.

Role modeling works both ways. Its effect is part of human nature. It’s how we fit into our community. We tend to norm our behaviors to what we observe around us, whether it is positive or negative.

While we see many positive role models, we also see an unfortunate number of examples that do not help our community, and which, during this time of Covid-19, can directly damage the health of our neighbors.

Unfortunately, negative role models are all too visible, even in the pages of the Coastal View News. For example, just a few weeks ago, illustrating an article about the then upcoming off-leash dog park pilot program at El Carro Park were six photos of dogs off leash at that park, including one photo on the cover of the paper! The pilot program had not even begun when that paper was published. The obvious message was that even though off-leash dogs were not allowed at all yet, and would only be during certain hours once the pilot program started, it seemed to be OK to have off leash dogs there at any time.

Just the other day I saw a Carpinteria Sheriff deputy driving down Via Real with a cell phone to his ear.

This week an employee in a local supermarket was cleaning the meat counter wearing a cloth mask that was not covering his nose.

A father and young son were riding bikes together (great!)… on the sidewalk in front of 7-11… neither with a helmet.

Coastal View News recently reported on the county’s Health Order prohibiting gatherings. Yet in that same edition there were photos of prohibited gatherings, one of a local non-profit doing a litter cleanup and another of a service organization gathering at the beach. The people in each of those photos were within spitting distance of each other and not all from the same household. It would have been easy to have set up each photo such that everyone was in it, but safely physically distanced from one another. The wearing of masks does not eliminate the requirement to maintain six feet distance when that distance is feasible, and posing for a photo for the newspaper does not qualify as making six-foot distancing “not feasible.” 

Role models matter. The welfare and health of our community matters. Consider carefully how your actions affect those around you. Our community benefits from positive role models – be one!