As the weather warms up, locals are gearing up for Memorial Day, the unofficial kickoff to summer camping season in Utah.
Winter snowpacks are receding from roads and trails, giving avid campers increasingly more access to the high country, but also raising the likelihood of encounters between humans and bears.
Bear sightings, let alone attacks, are rare in Utah. But the story of a boy being dragged from his tent in American Fork canyon in 2007 serves as a grim reminder that bears are a factor that campers in Utah must consider and plan for.
Bears come out of hibernation with an appetite that has been building for months, and if human food is readily accessible, they will certainly go for it.
When bears discover that over time, they can reliably find accessible food at a given location, they will return to that spot. They may even begin to rely on human carelessness as a food source, and that's when they become especially dangerous.
"A bear may not visit your campsite while you're there, but the food you leave out and the litter you leave behind could bring a bear to that same area after you leave," said Justin Dolling, game mammals coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "That could create a serious problem for people who camp in the area after you."
Bears rely on an exceptionally keen sense of smell to find food. When not in use, food and other scented items should be stored inside a vehicle, or suspended high on ropes between two trees where bears cannot reach them.
You can also use specially designed, bear-proof containers sold at sporting goods and outdoor stores.
It's important to keep food away from sleeping areas. Clothes worn while cooking or cleaning fish should not be slept in, and anything used to prepare, cook, eat or clean up food with should be stored away from sleeping areas as well.
In general, keeping campsites clean is the best way to avoid confrontations with bears, Dolling said.
"If you follow these rules, you'll not only help yourself -- you'll help other people, too."