Yosemite National Park managers work to protect the American black bear in Yosemite National Park so that it can continue its healthy existence for future generations of visitors to see. The challenge: The species, by its nature, can easily be corrupted by human errors, such as approaching too closely or poor food storage practices. For these reasons, research is on the forefront. As scientists learn more, the emphasis, in some cases, is on managing the behavior of humans rather than the behavior of bears.
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'Red Bear' Signage
The program includes 18 metal signs, illustrated with a red bear, positioned off the road where collisions in the park occurred. The attention-grabbing sign design and coloration is based on recommendations from a 2003 Wyoming roadway and wildlife crossing study. It indicated that traditional wildlife crossing signs, such as a yellow diamond-shaped sign with a black leaping deer, are often ineffective in mitigating vehicle-animal collisions, but innovative signage of animal silhouettes, in conjunction with a public education and awareness campaign, can be effective.
Since the Yosemite project began, the park has received an increase in reports of vehicle-bears collisions, but it's unclear to scientists if more bears have been hit by cars of if the sign campaign simply has encouraged the public to report collisions they witness. Yosemite's signage project also includes educational displays, in the form of flyers and posters, at entrance stations, visitor centers, and stores. Evaluation of this program is still ongoing.
NPS Historic Photo Collection
Search for Human Food
Bears that become used to people (habituated) lessen their use of natural foods, become more nocturnal, and may travel to higher elevations due to potential human food availability. Expect black bears to attempt amazing acts to obtain human food. If food has been left in a car, bears will break vehicle windows, bend car frames, and pop open camper shells. To get into a trunk, they will enter the passenger area and claw through the back seat.
Because bears can claw open unsecured dumpster lids and pull out trash, all of Yosemite’s outdoor garbage cans and dumpsters are bear-resistant. All campsites, parking lots, and major trailheads are equipped with bearproof food lockers that allow visitors to remove food from their cars overnight and store it safely away from bears. Visitors are required to use the food lockers (referred to as bear boxes) that exist in all campsites. Campers should not let their guard down: Some bears have resorted to entering during mealtime hours to grab food from open vehicles and picnic tables.
Research into Action
The Hornocker Wildlife Institute, a program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, examined factors influencing human-bear interactions in order to accurately identify methods to improve bear management and reduce the number of human-bear incidents. Suggestions included maintaining personal contacts by park staff to remind visitors of regulations, stronger law enforcement efforts, and more aggressive aversive conditioning techniques on bears in developed areas. See the full 2000-2003 reports below.
Did You Know?
In Wawona and downstream, the South Fork Merced River provides habitat for a rare plant, the Sierra sweet bay (Myrica hartwegii). This special status shrub is found in only five Sierra Nevada counties. In Yosemite, it occurs exclusively on sand bars and river banks along the South Fork Merced River downstream from Wawona and on Big Creek.