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Bear incidents demonstrate importance of proper food storage

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A black bear near Blacktail Plateau Drive in Yellowstone National Park. NPS PHOTO

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

Park staff have had a busy summer responding to bears in campgrounds, backcountry campsites and along roadsides. Visitors are reminded to stay at least 100 yards away from bears at all times and to store food and scented items properly.

Once a bear acquires human food, it loses its fear of people and may become dangerous. This process is called “habituation.” The park has killed two habituated black bears this year and is trying to capture a third. All three bears exhibited bold behaviors, showed no fear around people and have demonstrated food-conditioned behavior.

Last month, at a backcountry campsite along Little Cottonwood Creek, a black bear bit into an occupied tent and bruised a woman’s thigh. The bite did not break the skin due to the tent fabric and thick sleeping bag. Rangers suspect that this might have been a bear that gained access to human food in this same area in previous years. Over subsequent days, rangers set up cameras and a decoy tent at the campsite to determine if the bear would continue this behavior. With rangers present, the bear returned and aggressively tore up the decoy tent. The bear was killed on-site on June 11.

In early July, at a backcountry campsite along the Lamar River Trail, campers left food unattended while packing up gear, allowing a black bear to eat approximately 10 pounds of human food. Campers who visited the same campsite the following evening had numerous encounters with the same bear. Their attempts to haze the bear away failed. Rangers relocated multiple campers from the area and the bear was killed on July 10. The incident is still under investigation.

Since July 18, at the frontcountry Indian Creek Campground, a black bear has caused property damage to tents and vehicles in its search for human food. Park staff actively hazed the bear from the campground, but also set up cameras. If the bear returns, managers will take appropriate actions based on the current circumstances, including additional hazing or removal.

These incidents serve as unfortunate reminders that human carelessness doesn’t just endanger people; it can also result in a bear’s death. Allowing bears to obtain human food even once often leads to them becoming aggressive toward people. All of us play a role in keeping both bears and people safe.

Yellowstone National Park does not typically relocate bears for three reasons: 1) There are no areas in the park to move the bear where it wouldn’t have the continued opportunity to potentially injure someone and damage property, 2) surrounding states do not want food-conditioned bears relocated into their jurisdictions, and 3) adult bears have large home ranges, good memories and could easily return to the original area.

It is common for visitors to observe black bears in Yellowstone. About 50 percent are black in color, others are brown, blond or cinnamon.

Learn more about what you can do at go.nps.gov/yellbearsafety.


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