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West Yellowstone grizzlies help manufacturers test 'bear resistant' containers

Published On: Apr 03 2013 08:12:18 PM MDT

You could call 400 pound Spirit an expert when it comes to getting into human food. She was relocated six times back in Whitefish after she kept returning to the same golf community.

"Our bears are all here, they're all problem bears, bears that gained access to unnatural, unsecured foods," says Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center Facilities Manager Randy Gravatt.

That makes them ideal candidates to test out what manufacturers hope are bear resistant containers.

The 60 Quart cooler is baited with fish and meat and then left in the bear's habitat for about an hour to see if it passes the test of bear resistance.

"If a bear were able to get in within that 60 minutes, then the manufacturer would have to go back to the drawing board. They'd have to make it thicker, stronger, better, a better latch system. If it goes beyond the 60 minutes, it then gets an approval from the IGBC," says Gravatt.

A sticker from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee means manufacturers may then sell their product to national parks, state parks and federal lands.

While the bears work hard to retrieve the reward inside the containers, visitors get a lesson on recreating in bear country, whether it's not leaving their cooler out while camping or using a bear resistant trash can.

"The whole benefit of this is for the visitors that recreate of live in bear country, that they realize that certain products can or cannot allow bear access to them and proper ways of being safe in bear country," explains Gravatt.

We spoke to visitors to get their take.

"I think it's kind of a good idea because, if you're camping you don't really want a bear to eat your food," says visitor Layne Selin.

Benjamin Dullum is visiting from California.

"It was like, whoa. They couldn't get in, it was cool that they couldn't. Now, that's a product that we know that works so we might be able to use that," says Dullum.

We took a closer look at the cooler just before time ran out. Despite a few bite marks and a small gash in the side of the container, it seems this cooler will pass the test.

Folks with the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center say, when they first started testing containers ten years ago, their success rate was 10 percent. Now, they say it's around 60 percent.

The bears at the discovery center will test metal recycling containers Thursday.

For more information about the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, visit their website.