So Where Are You Taking That Bear?

April 07, 2017 Posted by: Yosemite Bear Team
Black bear running out of an open bear trap by the road

When visitors see us moving a bear trap in Yosemite National Park, they often ask: “So…where are you taking that bear?” When we discover a black bear obtaining human food and damaging property in Yosemite, we capture it to identify it and usually attach a tracking device. So, why then don’t we simply relocate the bear to a remote area of the park? Indeed, the National Park Service did that for many years. In recent years we’ve all but stopped this practice here. Why? It doesn’t work.

Relocation implies that once moved the animal will stay put. There are several reasons moving bears doesn’t work. The most obvious — they usually return, often very quickly. For that reason we have adopted the term “translocation,” which implies that if you move a bear out of an area there is no guarantee it will stay put. More often than not translocation is nothing more than a temporary fix to a much larger problem.

For the first time in Yosemite wildlife biologists have a new tool to remotely track bears — GPS collars. To test the theory that translocation could be an effective management tool, several bears have been moved as far as possible within park the park boundary since 2014. This blog focuses on an individual we moved in 2015. As you can see from the map below, the bear returned to nearly the exact location in Yosemite Valley in less than a week. It’s unclear how bears navigate back home but they do it consistently, as generations of wildlife biologists and park rangers can attest. (The old joke is that the “relocated” bear beats the wildlife management truck back to Yosemite Valley.)

GPS track showing path bear took from Tuolumne Meadows back to Yosemite Valley

Sometimes bears don’t return home. In these cases it’s usually because they have found easy human food in another location (a nightmare for bear managers located hours away). In other cases bears may get hit by cars while trying to return home or may be chased off by other dominant bears already living in the area they were moved to. These bears could also chase off a less-dominant bear already living in that area. Simply put, moving bears into foreign locations, away from their home ranges and into those of other bears, can cause a negative domino effect.

So what should Yosemite do when a bear starts investigating human food sources? Our focus is to prevent that animal from ever obtaining human food in the first place! The techniques wildlife biologists use to manage black bears are often ineffective as long as bears are able to access human food. It is the crux of human-bear conflict. It’s up to us to store food properly so bears and other animals can’t obtain it. If we all do our part, these animals can retain their natural avoidance of people and have the chance to live a long and wild life. After all, if bears can’t live in national parks, where can they live?

yosemite, bears

6 Comments Comments icon

  1. pat
    January 18, 2019 at 10:50


  2. Joshua
    September 28, 2017 at 12:35

    I feel that if the bears are being targeted because people are leaving food out, that people should pay the price. I bet if people had to PAY for the bear's relocation they might think hard about leaving food out. That or make it so the people in the park are not allowed to have food left out. It is not fair that the bears are there to keep them safe from humans...and the humans come to them to hard them.

  3. Justin
    September 07, 2017 at 10:42

    I stayed at Yosemite housekeeping camp over the Labor Day weekend and I have a confession. I purposely left food outside of our tent by my car to prove to my family that there were no bears in the park, let alone in such a densely populated area such as the valley. The next morning my wife found the 1/4 of a sandwich and I proved my point, sort of. Clearly it was by chance. I was wrong. Wrong for doing so and wrong about there not being any bears in the park. From what I've read thus far, and I've been reading and watching videos about the park, the efforts of the staff, personnel and everyone else involved, for the past 3 hours and the park's mission is very clear on not just the management of the bear population but all wildlife and the ecosystem as whole. A certain respect for the park staff has overcome me. I sincerely apologize and I will do more than my part to make it right. People don't realize and take for granted the work you do and the sacrifices you make such as having to live far from family due to the remote location of the park. I am a disabled veteran with 3 combat tours to Afghanistan, I know what it's like to make the sacrifice of giving up so much to support and be a part of what you believe in. I felt compelled to write this message because I feel I have taken your sacrifices as wildlife management for granted when it is expected of me to know better. We loved our trip there so much that the 28 of us have committed to making it an annual thing. From now on, you have my word, I will do my part.

  4. Yosemite National Park
    June 30, 2017 at 05:25

    @Cryght, no, we don't kill bears if/when they obtain packaged food. We do occasionally kill bears when their behavior becomes dangerous around people. This usually is a result of a bear obtaining human food over a long period and thus associating people as a source of human food and becoming more comfortable being around people. Once a bear has become comfortable around people, it often then becomes very bold or aggressive at getting food from people. We have a very successful program to educate people about, and enforce, food storage regulations in the park. As a result, cases in which bears obtained food or caused property damage have declined by 96% over the past two decades.

  5. Cryght
    June 30, 2017 at 03:53

    So from what i read, you guys really just kill a bear that obtains packaged food? cant there be laws etc to punish humans who dont follow rules to keep food out of their reach? Afterall if the bear is able to obtain said food.. I say it's Fair game since the animal lives by different rules then humans do. and killing a bear is not good. otherwise your best bet is to domesticate all the "wild bears" since it's against the law there for wild bears to be wild?

  6. John
    June 06, 2017 at 07:29


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Last updated: April 7, 2017

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