In the Rockies mountain snows slowly are beginning to melt, the aspen are beginning to unfurl their leaves, and the bears are rummaging about. All the more reason to pay attention to not just your surroundings in the national parks, but your cleanliness in terms of food.
In Grand Teton National Park, for instance, grizzly No. 399, a 12-year-old sow, is out of hibernation and roaming about with her triplets. While it's pretty cool to spot 399 and her cubs, you've gotta be careful, both for your own safety and so the bears don't become habituated to humans and their food and need to be put down.
In Grand Teton, home ranges for some bears include roadside areas of the park, which means you could find yourself intruding on their territories. During the next few months, a cadre of park employees will be monitoring and managing roadside wildlife watching in an effort to make sure that people maintain a safe distance not only from bears, but also from other animals such as bison, moose, and elk.
No. 399 and her triplets became a highly visible attraction along park roadsides and developed areas during the 2006 and 2007 seasons with hundreds of visitors stopping to photograph and observe them at close range. Over her lifetime, No. 399 has become comfortable using habitat in close proximity to roads and other developments, and is now habituated to humans. Nonetheless, she and her cubs remain wild, naturally foraging bears that are potentially dangerous.
Because grizzlies usually wean their young after two full years, grizzly No. 399’s cubs are expected to be on their own and fending for themselves sometime this spring or summer. They may continue to roam near people and park roads in the absence of their mother, making them more vulnerable to humans and their activities. They might also venture outside the park in search of new home ranges.
Park biologists and Wyoming Game and Fish biologists (who have responsibility for bears outside the park) want to ensure that the cubs remain wild and reliant upon natural food sources only. The fate of these and other bears could easily be influenced by careless park visitors or local residents who approach the bears too closely or store food and other bear attractants (such as bird feeders) inappropriately.
Inside the park, food storage regulations are in force and must be complied with at all times. Visitors are also required to keep a safe distance from bears at all times; the recommended distance to maintain from any bear (black or grizzly) is 100 yards—the length of a football field.
To help the bears enjoy a measure of solitude, Grand Teton officials are implementing a temporary wildlife closure from May 15 through July 15 in the Willow Flats area below Jackson Lake Lodge to prevent human-bear encounters in an area where elk calving annually occurs, as bears actively pursue this abundant food source. Signs will be posted to alert visitors of the closure area and inform them of associated safety concerns.
To keep all grizzly bears and black bears wild and free, people must practice good “bear aware” etiquette and be responsible while recreating in Grand Teton National Park. For further information about being “bear aware,” please consult the park’s newspaper, Teewinot, visit the park’s web site, or stop by any park visitor center.