For bears, their natural fear of people is an important instinct that keeps them safe. When a bear becomes habituated, losing its natural fear of people, other behaviors can change and dangerous situations can evolve with people. This is why rangers staffed these areas from late August through November. Rangers also created a fun new display to show people exactly how far they should be from a bear: a fun wooden bear silhouette designed to stand a 50 yards down a trail from a sign with bear information on it. This sign explained what to do if you see a bear, and demonstrated exactly how far visitors should remain from bears in order to help keep them wild. All these efforts, as well as the interest that visitors took to learn and understand their role in protecting wildlife in national parks, helped make a difference in these acorn eating bear’s lives.
Here’s the situation: you are hanging out at your campsite or on a picnic area beach in Yosemite, when you hear a branch crack behind you. You turn around to find a bear approaching. What do you do?
You stand up, face the bear, wave your arms, and yell at the bear. We mean YELL at the bear, as loudly as you possibly can. Be aggressive with your voice and body language. You’re not just making noise; you’re scaring a bear away! You have to mean it for it to work.
Here are some examples of things you can yell:
GET OUT OF HERE BEAR!!
Or even just: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH BEAR!!!!!!!!!
One half-hearted yell may not be enough to scare a bear. So, keep yelling LOUDLY and AGGRESSIVELY until the bear leaves. Yell, clap your hands, wave your arms, hit a stick against a tree, get other people to help you yell! You can even throw small objects like pinecones or small pebbles at the bear to help scare it. (You’re trying to gently hit the bear with the pebble or pinecone—not injure it: Bears don’t like being touched.) Don’t chase the bear; just use your voice to scare it away.
Do you have time to snap a quick picture? No!
Do you have time to look around for a pot to bang or a whistle to blow? No! Use your voice! Your voice is your most effective tool to scare a bear away (and you don’t have to go looking for it… unless you’re really scared).
When a bear is around people, it could be only moments away from getting food, so you need to make it feel unwelcome immediately. Once a bear is eating food, it will be harder to scare away and much more likely to return in search of more food, ultimately getting itself into more trouble. We also want bears to be immediately afraid of people (as they naturally are), rather than assuming most people aren’t scary.
Bears that consume human food typically have decayed and damaged teeth. But that’s not the only negative consequence: when a bear gets food from people, even just a banana, the bear will change its natural behavior. Bears are extremely food-driven and a bear that gets human food will often become so bold in its attempts at getting human food that it has to be killed to protect people. So, when you see a bear approaching you or in any developed area (e.g., campground, picnic area, trail, parking lot), it is important to scare it away immediately, stopping this cycle, and helping keep the bear wild and alive. Yes, yelling at a bear helps keep it alive.
What about when you see a bear in a meadow, in the wilderness, or anywhere else away from human development or people—should you scare it? Generally, no. Do you have time to snap a quick picture? Probably, if you are at least 50 yards away from the bear. It can be one of the best Yosemite experiences getting to watch a wild bear do wild bear things.
Are you having trouble envisioning scaring a bear away? This video shows what it sounds and looks like. This advice applies in Yosemite; always check local recommendations when visiting bear country.
In the last three weeks, at least four bears were hit by cars in Yosemite, at least two of which were killed. The two bears that survived were hit by drivers going faster than the 25 mph speed limit and were seriously injured and limping. We will never know the severity of their injuries. It is important to remember that while traveling in the park, the posted speed limits are not only there to protect people, but to also protect wildlife in areas where animals cross roads. Following posted speed limits may save the life of a great gray owl as it flies across the road, or a Pacific fisher as it runs across the road, both of which are endangered species. This easy action—slowing down—may also prevent you from hitting a bear eating berries on the side of the road, or a deer crossing with its fawn. While traveling through Yosemite, try to remember that we are all visitors in the home of countless animals, and it is up to you to follow the rules that are put in place to protect them.
Have you ever noticed the signs by the side of the road that say, “Speeding Kills Bears” with the image of a red bear on them? These signs mark the locations of bears where they have been hit by a vehicle this year, or where bears have been frequently hit in previous years. We take these signs down each winter and put them up as the accidents occur, hopefully as a reminder to visitors to slow down and keep a lookout for wildlife. If you do hit an animal while in Yosemite and need immediate ranger response, you can report it to the park’s emergency communication center at 209/379-1992, or by leaving a message on the Save-A-Bear Hotline at 209/372-0322 if you believe that the animal is uninjured. You may also use the Save-A-Bear Hotline number to report non-urgent bear observations.
It’s a simple fact that black bears spend their whole life following their stomachs, including in winter. Similar to the postman’s motto, “neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night,” keeps a bear from eating its fill. So for bears in Yosemite, winter denning is not associated with the weather so much as it is linked to food availability. There are years when oak trees make an over-abundance of acorns, considered a mast year, and bears can been seen all winter digging under feet of snow to feast on acorns. Similarly, it has been reported in other areas that bears will rouse from winter dens to take advantage of trash cans that are put out curbside every week on trash day. So while bear behavior can be motivated by both human and unnatural foods, it is not uncommon to find bear tracks in the snow and it is important to always lock up food in a hard-sided structure or in a food locker when visiting Yosemite.
You are walking along outside when you come upon a large pile of poop. How can you tell if it’s bear poop? Given the variation in their diets, bear scat from one bear can look very different from another bear. Poop from the same bear may look entirely different on different days. So, how can you tell?
Black bears are omnivores and eat a wide range of foods including grass, roots, fruit, insects, fish, and animal carcasses. Their digestive system is similar to a human’s; they have a stomach and a small and large intestine. Some things will digest in the bear’s stomach and won’t be visible in the scat, while other things, like apple peels, seeds, fur, and bones will be present in the poop. Black bear poop can take on many shapes. The color and composition of their poop will change with the seasons, as does their diet. In the spring, bears eat a lot of grass and insects, so their poop is often green and tubular, with grass visible. In the late summer and fall, bear poop will be looser and in large plops, with berries and apple pieces visible.
What other types of poop may you come across? Here in Yosemite, you may stumble upon coyote, raccoon, mountain lion, or bobcat poop, all of which can be confused with bear poop. Coyote poop is also tubular and may contain the same foods, but it usually looks like a pile of twisted rope. Raccoons go to the bathroom in the same spot over and over, so their poops will be found in large piles called latrines. Bobcats and mountain lions both have segmented poops, a characteristic common to felines. Their poop is dense and won’t flatten if you step on it. All of the poop piles mentioned above are smaller than a bear’s.
Well, now that you’ve got the data on the scat-a, go out and find some bear poop!
Speed Enforcement in Effect to Help Protect Bears and Other Wildlife
In preparation for a busy Labor Day Weekend, Yosemite National Park has designated several new Wildlife Protection Zones located on stretches of roadway throughout the Park where bears and other animals have been hit by vehicles. Visitors driving in the park this weekend will see new signs advising motorists that you are in a “Wildlife Protection Zone” and that speed limits will be strictly enforced. Multiple zones have been designated in Yosemite Valley and along sections of Big Oak Flat Road, El Portal Road, Wawona Road and Tioga Road. These zones will remain in effect until further notice.
As of August 28, 2019, 11 bears have been hit by vehicles during the 2019 calendar year. More than 400 bears have been hit by vehicles in Yosemite National Park since 1995. It’s not just bears that face the danger of being hit by a vehicle on roads within Yosemite National Park. Owls, Pacific fishers, butterflies, rare amphibians like red-legged frogs and salamanders; and mammals like deer, foxes, and mountain lions are also often hit and killed on Yosemite’s roads.
“One of the best ways to help protect wildlife in Yosemite National Park is to slow down and follow the posted speed limits within the park,” stated Yosemite National Park Superintendent Michael Reynolds. “These new Wildlife Protection Zones have been designated to help reduce the number of animals injured or killed in the park by automobiles. We thank park visitors for helping us protect Yosemite’s bears and other wildlife.”
How can park visitors help protect wildlife while driving in and around Yosemite National Park? Please stay alert, especially while driving during dawn and dusk, when animals are more active. Scan roadsides for wildlife in front of your car and obey posted speed limit signs including areas with reduced speeds. These small actions can help make a big difference and help prevent wildlife-automobile collisions.
Editor’s Note: The attached photo is an NPS Photo and may be published in print and electronic media. Please list the photo credit as “NPS Photo.”
Scott Gediman 209-372-0248
Jamie Richards 209-372-0529
One of the most common questions we get when visitors see a bear in Yosemite is, “How old is that bear?” Knowing a bear’s age can help us understand a lot about its behavior and how to manage it. If a bear has been managed since it was young, we know exactly how old it is. If bears are first captured when they are older, biologists use tooth wear as an indication of a bear’s age. Determining if the canine teeth are worn, the level of wear on the incisors, and the presence or absence of dentine spots, all place the bear into a certain age category. Bears are classified as either a cub (<1), yearling (1), sub-adult (2-3), new adult (4-7), middle-aged adult (8-15), or old adult (16+).
Bears are omnivores and eat both plants and meat, and their jaws are a combination of sharp canines and flat molars. From chewing grass, to cracking acorns, to eating carrion, a bear’s teeth are essential to their survival. As a bear ages, their teeth become worn down, rounded, and discolored.
This bear still shows signs of good health despite her tooth wear and has been denning since December 2018. Worn teeth make it increasingly difficult for a bear to chew natural foods, and can lead to conflict with humans if a bear obtains human food that can give a bear a much easier intake of calories.
You can help us keep these and other wildlife wild and healthy by always keeping your food stored properly when in bear habitat and respecting all wildlife by keeping your distance.
Yosemite has a long and tedious history managing bears, people, and the interactions between the two. In 1998, the park hit a record high number of bear incidents in the park with over 1,500 (documented) incidents in one year. This was a huge turning point for the park in changing the way that we managed our bears, and more importantly, people. Beginning in 1999, massive efforts to provide public information and education regarding bears and food storage, along with improvements to the park’s bear-resistant food storage and garbage disposal infrastructure greatly reduced availability of human foods to bears and educated millions of visitors. Additionally, individual bears were managed more directly/rapidly with an intensive program to scare them away from development using anything from yelling to less-than-lethal shotgun rounds. These efforts resulted in quick and major improvements to human-bear conflict. But still, the number of bear incidents remained in the hundreds each year for well over a decade.
With the use of technology, incidents have now been under one hundred per year for over four years. This year we’ve hit a new record low, with only about 22 bear incidents total for 2018. If you want to learn more about how the park used technology to further reduce bear incidents, you are in luck! There is a new journal article out describing how technology was used in Yosemite’s Human-Bear Management Program to bring the number of human-bear conflicts in the park to new record lows.
Mazur, Rachel L.; Leahy, Ryan M.; Lee-Roney, Caitlin J.; and Patrick, Kathleen E. (2018) “Using Global Positioning System Technology to Manage Human-Black Bear Incidents at Yosemite National Park,” Human–Wildlife Interactions: Vol. 12 : Iss. 3 , Article 8.
Available for download at: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/hwi/vol12/iss3/8
On July 13, 2018, the Ferguson Fire started in the Merced River Canyon just west of Yosemite National Park. At the time the fire started, the park was experiencing peak season visitation and biologists were monitoring up to 20 different bears foraging naturally in Yosemite Valley on a daily basis. Yosemite Valley and some other areas closed to visitors from July 25 to August 14 due to health and safety concerns. Employees and residents were also evacuated for part of that time, leaving only firefighters and emergency personnel behind. Consequently, Yosemite Valley was unusually empty and exceptionally quiet. As a result, bears immediately began frequenting many areas normally teeming with people during bustling summer days.
Black bears are naturally curious, but shy away from people. They generally use corridors of forest cover to make loops around their home ranges in Yosemite Valley while searching for food. As opportunistic omnivores, they prefer food sources that are readily accessible and away from busy human developments. Even food conditioned bears prefer to use the cover of night and forest to enter heavily populated areas.
During the closure of Yosemite Valley, bears spent more time in developed areas in search of natural food sources. In the absence of park visitors, they boldly crossed roads, bike paths, and walked through empty campgrounds, parking lots, and through other areas that are typically swarming with people. Bears took advantage of the historic apple orchards, gorging themselves on apples. The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly The Ahwahnee) lawn, usually filled with visitors picnicking , wedding parties and kids playing was now instead the location two male bears chose to play together, grazing on the grounds.
This behavior gives biologists a glimpse into a more wild Yosemite Valley when it was only sparsely populated and much less visited. A time when black bears and other wildlife were able to chose the path of least resistance, instead of the path of least population to obtain natural food sources such as fruits, insects, acorns, and grasses.