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Wake-Up Time For Park Bears

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Spring is in the bear – errr- make that air. How do you to protect your food and Yosemite National Park€™s bears?

As black bears come out of hibernation this spring, they will consume over 4000 calories a day. Some bears continue to lose weight even after emerging from their winter dens and will spend most of their time looking for food. In the springtime, bears will mostly forage on grasses and forbs. Bears will survive on grasses until the more nutritious and energy-rich berries become ripe.

Bears are opportunistic and will eat almost anything, including human food and trash. They are naturally curious and have a sense of smell that is better than any other animal. Bears can even smell canned food kept inside the trunk of a vehicle.

That is why Yosemite National Park€™s black bears have learned to obtain human food in campgrounds and parking lots. They often lose their fear of humans as they get into improperly stored human food or trash that is improperly disposed of. Bears that obtain human food and garbage will continue to seek it out, sometimes showing aggressive behavior toward people while searching for food. These bears have become habituated and may no longer display the natural, wild behavior that is quintessential to seeing wildlife, like bears, in national parks.

By taking a few simple precautions, visitors can ensure that their food does not become part of the bears´ diets. “Food” includes any item with a scent, regardless of packaging. This may include items such as canned goods, bottles, drinks, soaps, cosmetics, toiletries, perfumes, trash, and even empty ice chests.

Visitors staying in hotel rooms should bring all food items into their rooms. If staying in campgrounds, tent cabins, and in Housekeeping Camp, store food in the food storage lockers provided. Day use visitors may leave food in vehicles during daylight hours, but must not store food in vehicles after dark.

For backpackers and climbers heading into the wilderness, bear-resistant food containers are available for rent. These containers are the most effective way to protect bears from your food and are highly recommended. In some areas of the wilderness, National Park Service -approved bear-resistant food containers are required. Bears have quickly learned that containers are not worth investigating, even though they smell like food.

Although visitors need to take precautions while staying in bear habitat, the likelihood of seeing bears in the park remains low. Bears, in their natural state, are shy and tend to avoid human contact. They are on a constant quest for food, so it may be that visitors see the results of bear activity, but never actually see the bear. Habituated bears will wait for the right opportunity, after visitors have gone to sleep for the night, to obtain food from cars and campsites.

As Yosemite€™s black bears come out of hibernation, their hunger will lead them in search of the calories they need to regain the weight they lost in the winter. Visitors to the park, by taking a few basic precautions, can help ensure that when and if they see a bear in Yosemite, it will be a wild bear.