A Young Bear Misguided on the Trail

September 06, 2017 Posted by: Yosemite Bear Team

One of the most popular trailheads in Yosemite Valley is Happy Isles. What hikers may not realize is that this trail is popular not only with humans but with black bears as well. Like people, bears generally take the easiest route between two points. It’s not surprising that recreational trails are popular with animals as well.


Seeing a bear on a hike can be an A young bear looking at the photographer from just off a hiking trail. exhilarating experience. If you see a bear, it’s almost guaranteed to be doing one thing: foraging. Finding food is the driving force in a bear’s life. Naturally, bears are excellent at hunting for berries, grasses, and smaller animals. They have adapted to be food finding machines! Bears have one of the keenest senses of smell in the animal kingdom; estimates range anywhere from being able to smell a food source from a few miles to 18 or 20 miles away!


While bears are excellent at finding food on their own, they want to conserve energy. If they happen upon an unattended backpack filled with delicious hiking snacks, they will eat them. Yosemite’s black bears are relatively reserved creatures and instinctively shy away from humans. If a bear is rewarded with human food it can become food conditioned. Basically, once a bear gets food from humans (by hand-feeding or discovery of improperly stored food), bears will seek out human populated areas in their search for more. Eventually, bears can become habituated. Habituation is a decrease in response to a stimulus after repeated presentations. Bears lose their natural fear of humans and sometimes present aggressive behavior. In a park with 4 to 5 million visitors every year, an aggressive bear is likely to be killed to protect people.


Early this summer, a yearling bear obtained food (by hand or otherwise) from visitors. The young bear often walked just a few feet away from hikers on the John Muir and Mist Trails. It’s understandable as a person to think “This bear and I are having a special moment! I’m like a real life Disney princess!” In reality, the bear learned at a very young age that it could get food from people. As the bear grows up, it may seek out people for food or become aggressive towards humans in an attempt to get food.


A young bear eating trash on a busy trail.Hikers and rangers encountered the yearling so often that Yosemite’s Bear Team had to step in. In June, rangers hiked up the John Muir Trail and easily found the yearling. In fact, the bear allowed the rangers to get within two feet. Once darted with an anesthetic, the team took  measurements and tagged the bear with tag white 23. Because the bear was only one and a half years old, rangers hoped they could release it into a less populated area where it could learn to survive on it’s own. Unfortunately, White 23 was back on the John Muir Trail in less than a week; like many relocated black bears, it used an uncanny sense of direction to travel to its preferred location.


The bear team continues to actively scare White 23 with noisemakers, non-lethal projectiles (like clear paintballs from a paintball gun), and by chasing it out of developed areas and away from trails. The intent is not to harm the bear, but to scare the bear and restore its natural fear of people. By providing a negative experience, rangers hope that the bear’s behavior changes before irreparable damage or confrontation occurs. If these tactics prove to be ineffective, there is a high chance that this bear will be killed and Yosemite will lose another of these majestic creatures.


Please remember:   


- It is never cute or cool to feed wildlife, be it ducks, squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, bears, or otherwise. All of these creatures are perfectly capable of finding their own sustainable, naturally occurring food. Do your part to help keep wildlife wild.

- Keep your distance from all wildlife, and at least 50 yards away from bears, to ensure both the animal’s and your safety. Never let a bear approach you. Either back away and give the animal space (in a natural area) or raise your arms and make as much noise as possible by yelling very loudly (in a developed area).

- Always let a ranger know you have seen a bear by calling and leaving a message on the Save-A-Bear Hotline 209/372-0322.

8 Comments Comments icon

  1. November 25, 2019 at 01:14


  2. Frederick
    June 02, 2019 at 08:04

    I have watched us kill bears in our national park since 1957, my first visit to Yellowstone and Yosemite.. It is about time we stopped !!!! Just close the trail to human traffic for what ever time it takes. I was in Banff National park when they closed a camp ground because of a camper leaving food in their tent and a bear tore into it. Two years later it was still closed. They value there wildlife.

  3. Raquel
    September 08, 2017 at 01:34

    I could see a bear on mid june in a tree just beside the wc at the foot of Mist Trail, reading the article likely this one, even talk to several rangers and give them pictures. It was a mix of emotions, first my husband and I felt really happy and were enthusiastic about being so close, but suddenly we realised we were more than 30 people there almost surrounding the animal, the bear was really terrified, so our feeling changed immediately. There is no emotion like watching wildlife in their ecosystem, but unfortunately that was not the case. It is clear that safety is the first, but we also have to keep in mind that our actions can change the animals behaviour not only risking us, but also changing their customs and driving them to a possible death, that is unacceptable so, please, do not get closer to bears, not only for you, but for them! PS. It would great if you could keep us informed about White 23 and, of course, other wildlife teachings like this.

  4. Ann Schonlau
    September 07, 2017 at 02:13

    Same story, different state. Haze often and haze hard. It is like Cancer, the treatment is painful but it can be cured.

  5. LeaveNoTrace-California
    September 07, 2017 at 06:34

    Thank you for the efforts being taken to break the habituation of this bear. It would be very sad to lose it due to the bad behavior. . Please "Repect Wildlife" and learn more about the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace outdoor ethics at https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles

  6. Yangyang
    September 07, 2017 at 05:29

    I'll 'bear' in mind of these advices and leave them alone ,thank you bear management team.

  7. Flaberta
    September 06, 2017 at 07:20

    Thank you Bear Team! I hope White 23 can regain its natural fear of people before it's too late.

  8. Flaberta
    September 06, 2017 at 07:20

    Thank you Bear Team! I hope White 23 can regain its natural fear of people before it's too late.

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Last updated: September 6, 2017

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