Philmont Bear Information

Date: Sun, 10 Feb 2002 06:10:03 -0500
Subject: Philmont bears-info

Although little has been mentioned in several months, I believe several items need to be addressed about Philmont bears.

  1. Philmont is home to 150-200 black bears (depending on who you ask), Philmont being 214 sq mi, you can do the math
  2. Philmont has some of the strictest bear policies in the country. When comparing the rate on incident to national parks, the policies seem to be working. Take heart of what your rangers tell you. Your chances of having a problem (w/ a bear) are slim, but by deveating from the bear procedures you do increase the potential. Remember you're there for ten days, the bears are there for 365
  3. There are bears across the entire ranch. Some 'veterans' believe that there really are not that many bears in the South country (ie-slack off), you may not see them, but they are around.
  4. Don't slack off on your bear procedures just because you have not seen a bear. Many of the bear problems are associated with crews who are on day 6 or later in their trek.
  5. Bears are extremely inquisitive and will try to eat anything that smells different. They may not like something (bleach, fuel can-complete with fuel, batteries), but they will try it anyway and let their gastrointestinal tract figure it out later.
  6. Bears have arguably one of the stongest olfactory (sense of smell) systems in the world. A bear's sense of smell may be several times that of a dog's (I would love seeing a drug sniffing bear). Yes, bears can smell unopened packages or even cans. Burning trash with your camp stove doesn't eliminate odor, in fact it may enhance it. And YES, bears can smell food/trash that has been dumped in latrines, and YES they will try to retreive it (even very small amounts)
  7. If you see a bear at Philmont, enjoy the experience (hopefully it's on good terms), only about 1/3-1/5 of all crews see a bear. But PLEASE report the sighting/incident to a staff member (ideally the person who checks you in at staff camps) as soon as possible. In the long run you may be saving a bear's life, or helping a scout from being injured. Philmont employees 2 individuals (Bear Researchers) who keep track on bear activity and help enforce bear procedures. Each summer there may be 400-800+ bear sightings. The more detailed the description of the bear and location the better.
  8. As far as diet goes, Philmont bears consume about ~80% vegetation, probably another 10-15% insects (lots of crude protien), and another 5-10% of other (ie-carrion-dead animals), every once in a while they might get a fawn(they are predators-see next statement). Bears are not overly industrious creatures, they don't go out of their way to aquire camper food or trash. They are however very opportunistic, if human foods are initally easily available, they WILL partake, and they WILL become hooked. It only takes one mistake for a bear to become hooked, from that point on Philmont has a potential problem bear.
  9. There are habituated bears (see so many humans they could care less) and food conditioned (got food as an "award") bears. By mid-July, there probably isn't a single bear on Philmont that is not habituated to some extent. Problems arise when they become food conditioned as well.

    Ok, time to start getting off the soap box. Bears are a great part of the Philmont experience. Just remember in the last 2 years (2000&2001), 7 people (5 campers, 2 other individuals)have recieved minor to moderate (depending on your definition) injuries from bears (7/~40,000-the odds really are against you being injured). In nearly every case some type of "smellable" was found in or near the campsite. Some times the violation is rather blantant (food wrappers and food in and around a tent), to hidden and unknown to the crew (previous campsite occupants hiding trash under rocks or dumping food in the latrines). Remember, there will be campers there after you, and their saftey could depend on your actions. Finally, Philmont is not joking with their "A fed bear is a dead bear" statement. Several bears have been killed and more trapped/relocated in the last couple of years, in nearly every case the problem started with campers violating Philmont's bear policies.


    If you have any questions or comments please feel free to email OK, I'm done.

    See also:

    The content of this Web page was provided by Please contact him at for more information.

    This Web page is maintained by Selden Ball at Wilson Lab.
    Please send any comments or corrections to