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Yosemite Bear Program Called Success

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Yosemite National Park enjoyed another year of continued success in the bear management program through a comprehensive effort to maintain a wild bear population in Yosemite through bear management practices and public education.

There have been 390 human-bear incidents this year. An incident is any situation in which a bear displays habituated behavior. This includes any incident involving property damage caused by a bear, a bear obtaining human food, a bluff charge, or personal injury from a bear.

This is down 30% from last year and 75% from 1998 when human-bear incidents reached a peak with 1,584 incidents. The Yosemite Bear Council established the Wild Bear Project in 1999 to respond to increasing human-bear interactions.

The Yosemite Bear Council is composed of National Park Service employees representing each division and park partners such as Yosemite Association and Delaware North Companies at Yosemite. The council works cooperatively to reduce human-bear conflicts and to maintain a natural population of black bears in Yosemite National Park.

The council implemented multiple programs to decrease the number of incidents. A public education campaign informed park visitors and employees of how to behave in bear habitat and how to properly store food in Yosemite National Park. Bear proof food storage lockers and canisters were made available to visitors to help them properly store their food.

Bear management techniques such as aversive conditioning, or hazing, to keep bears away from developed areas like campgrounds have been used more extensively and research into the behavior of park bears is providing valuable data about bear behavior in the park, including how they interact with humans.

This summer, the National Park Service, the Wildlife Services/National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) tested a system to track the movement of bears with radio collars and to notify wildlife staff through an alarm system on the park radio when a collared bear entered certain developed areas. Wildlife biologists were able to haze bears, sometimes before the bears obtained human food or caused damage to human property.

While the ultimate goal of park biologists is to have a wild population of bears with no incidents, Yosemite is still making progress in the ever-changing effort to keep a healthy, wild population of bears in their habitat that is also a popular visitor destination. Park staff was encouraged this year by the natural behaviors of several bears seen in Yosemite Valley and elsewhere. It was a good reminder that only a small percentage of bears in the park display habituated behavior.

However, one bear was euthanized this year after he displayed escalating aggressive behavior. At least seven bears have been struck and killed by cars. The council is considering several options to reduce speeding on the roads in Yosemite: by far the greatest cause of animal fatalities in the park. They have recently purchased and installed radar trailers to inform drivers of the speed they are going in relation to the posted speed limit. It is hoped that drivers will voluntarily comply with the speed limits when they realize their excessive speed.

The Yosemite Bear Council continues to implement new techniques and try new methods of both bear management and public education in an effort to stay ahead of a smart, curious, and adaptable bear population that constantly adjusts its behaviors in response to Yosemite National Park’s bear management.