Spike in Bear Encounters at Yosemite National Park

July 11, 2009 12:04:06 AM PDT
As many as five-hundred bears roam the wilderness of Yosemite National Park, but this year more bears are searching for food in the park's developed areas.Yosemite's natural beauty will take your breath away, but what could put you in the middle of a traffic jam of camera- toting tourists on this national park highway: A mother bear -- and her two adorable cubs -- having a late afternoon snack of grass and grubs in a meadow.

Tourist Julia Carlin of Carlsbad says "Oh ... it's exciting. We love the bears!

This perfect wildlife picture has recently been replaced by a more unsettling and at times -- terrifying scene. Rangers say the bears have been very active all over the park this spring and summer.

A hungry bear startled the Nygh family at their campsite -- breaking into a broken food locker and making off with a container of marshmallows.

Jordan Nygh said "He rubbed up against the tent once and then, he bumped into my Dad's cot!"

Several hundred yards perhaps even a quarter of a mile from the Nygh's campsite, we found a marshmallow bag. Rangers say the bear probably took what he stole out to the woods to eat it and then, head back to the campground to pick up another snack.

Phillip Nygh told us "It came back the next time about 5:30 in the morning."

Incidents of bears raiding campgrounds -- breaking into cars -- and even hurting people to get food -- are up dramatically from last year in Yosemite. Property damage totals more than thirteen thousand dollars so far. Rangers have killed two bears that threatened human safety, because they were breaking into occupied houses and tent cabins.

Wildlife biologist Steve Thompson has been studying bears in Yosemite for twenty years. He says there's no simple answer for the upswing in bear activity.

Thompson said "It could be a problem with a natural food source. It could be that we just have certain individual bears active right now that are heavily conditioned to human food. It could be that maybe people are being more careless."

The conflict between people and bears in Yosemite hit its peak in 1998, with more than 15-hundred incidents and nearly 700-thousand dollars in property damage -- especially to cars.

Rangers also found re-locating the animals wasn't working. So, the park service refocused its efforts to protect people and the bears.

Steve Thompson said "The solution is more in managing the people than it is in managing the bears."

Metal lockers -- big enough to hold a good- sized ice chest -- are now a major part of what is nearly a zero tolerance policy in the park for improperly stored food. You can open the locker -- but the bear can't.

Ranger Kari Cobb said "We have actually those food storage lockers in every single campsite in the park. You will not rent a campsite without having a bear locker. It's just our policy ... you have to put your food in there."

Rangers are constantly educating visitors on food storage -- and its disposal. They're trying to stay one step ahead of the bears -- that are just waiting to take advantage of careless campers. Steve Thompson believes bears will change their natural eating habits after only one exposure to human food.

Related Links:
http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/bearfacts.htm
http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/bears.htm

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