Ursack Update

March 09, 2007
We met with a number of Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG) members and others on March 8, 2007. We made a presentation to them which stressed the fact that our new Spectra (S29) Ursack is identical to the one they tested extensively and successfully in 2004. There are many hundreds of S29s in circulation, but we were unable to manufacture them for the last two years because the military took all the Spectra fabric. The Ursack S29 has a perfect record in preventing bears from getting food rewards in the Sierra. Despite the fact that the S29 tested well and has a perfect record, SIBBG wants to test it again in Yosemite in 2007, and will not approve it for use anywhere until it passes that test. The V21 (Vectran bags sold prior to August 18, 2006) are no longer approved. The V27, which is 27.5% stronger than the V21, has never been tested, nor has it had any reported failures. Until we hear further details as to the probable timing and duration of the Yosemite test(s), we are not sure how we will proceed--other than to continue to sell both the S29 and V27 with a warning that they are not approved for SIBBG restricted areas.

In preparing for our meeting with SIBBG, we read a very interesting and thorough study by Kate McCurdy--a former Yosemite (bear) ranger. This was Kate's master's thesis. Her thesis compiled and analyzed survey results from 568 Yosemite backpackers. The backpackers were, by a large majority, supportive of Park canister requirements. But, nearly 40% were unable to fully comply with those requirements and had to leave some food/toiletries unprotected on one or more nights. Among the significant factors preventing full compliance were the weight and bulk of hard sided canisters. "In roughly half" of the (108) bear encounters reported by survey respondents in 2005, bears got "substantial food rewards." In other words, there were roughly 50 incidents in Yosemite alone in which bears got food rewards even though the vast majority of campers were using approved canisters. It was not that those canisters failed, it was that the campers were unable or unwilling to fully comply with regulations. This number from Yosemite absolutely dwarfs the amount of food rewards bears got from failed canisters anywhere in the entire Sierra, whether those canisters were made by Ursack or other manufacturers.

If SIBBG's goal is to prevent bears from getting food rewards, it would seem their time would be better spent addressing the non-compliance issue and less time re-testing the Ursack S29, a product which due to its light weight and compressibility, makes it easier for backpackers to do the right thing.