Black Bears in Denali, Grand Teton National Parks Killed
The Denali incident was unusual in that the bear, a sub-adult male, wasn't deterred by three seasonal biological technicians conducting a botany field study in an area along the McKinley River approximately 20 miles northwest of Wonder Lake. The three workers were working along a river bar when the bear approached their field camp at 11:15 p.m. on July 4.
The team responded by yelling, arm-waving, and throwing objects at the bear. After initially being chased off into dense brush, the bear circled back to the camp three or four times. At one point the animal clawed and destroyed one of the team’s tents. On its final approach to the camp, the black bear aggressively charged the three researchers, hissing and pouncing at the ground. An attempt to divert the bear with pepper spray was ineffective.
Park officials say that in accordance with the park’s Bear-Human Conflict Management Plan, one of the researchers made the decision to shoot the bear when it charged within 20 feet of the team and posed immediate hazard to human safety. The employee, who was qualified and authorized by the National Park Service to carry and use firearms in the park, hit the bear in its mid-section with a 12-gauge shotgun slug. Despite considerable blood loss, the wounded bear moved into dense vegetation and out of view.
The workers immediately notified Denali’s Communication Center via park radio. The following morning, the park wildlife biologist, along with two law enforcement rangers and one backcountry ranger, were flown to the camp in a park helicopter to investigate the situation and take further action if necessary. The group tracked the blood trail for 200 meters, but thereafter they were unable to locate the wounded bear in the dense brush. Both the helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft searched from the air, but spotters were similarly unable to locate the bear.
In light of the remoteness of the incident and the amount of blood loss to the bear, park officials consider there to be little, if any, ongoing hazard to human life. Park management has issued a backcountry closure for the area in question, a remote unit that sees very limited visitor activity. Further investigation into the incident is ongoing.
In Grand Teton, park biologists euthanized a female black bear on Monday, July 7, out of concern for public safety. The bear’s increasingly bold behavior toward park visitors, and her repeated attempts to get human food, forced park officials to make the difficult decision to remove her from the population in order to reduce future threats to visitors and their safety.
The 9-year-old bear was easily identifiable because she wore a yellow eartag in her left ear. Bear #22044 was originally tagged in 2004 during a research project involving both grizzly and black bears. She had no history of nuisance behavior until 2007, when natural foods were in scant supply throughout the park.
During the past two years, the 175-pound female black bear gradually became human food-conditioned and unafraid of people. For several weeks during 2007 she frequented the Colter Bay area, as well as Elk Island in the middle of Jackson Lake, roaming in search of food and getting multiple food rewards.
Throughout August and early September of 2007, she actively sought and obtained human foods and was consequently hazed several times. There were no additional incidents involving this bear until June 28 of this year, when she grabbed food from people cooking on Elk Island. After that situation, almost daily incidents occurred involving this bear and her attempts to acquire human foods. On July 1, she tore into bags of trash left at campsites in the Colter Bay campground.
Although quite habituated to people, bear #22044 had never acted aggressively toward humans until last week, when she flattened and damaged two tents in the Colter Bay campground. In each case, people were not in the tents at the time of the incident; however, food had been left unattended inside one of the tents. She also put her paws onto another tent as if she was going to crush it. Her recent behavior—combined with the potential for her to become a risk to human safety—contributed to the decision to permanently remove her from the population.
This bear was not a good candidate for relocation because of her well-established habit of seeking out human food sources within developed areas.
Park officials strongly remind visitors that proper disposal of garbage and storage of food items is extremely important. Thoughtless actions of people can literally lead to a life or death situation for bears that easily become corrupted by the availability of human food and garbage. Once a bear acquires human food, it often loses its fear of people and may become dangerous. Human carelessness doesn’t just endanger people; it can also result in a bear’s death.
Grand Teton bears are active in areas of high visitor use, as well as in the backcountry. For the health and safety of all bears, as well as that of park visitors, please adhere to the following rules: Never leave food or backpacks unattended, even for a minute; use available storage facilities when camping, or secure food in your car; dispose of garbage in bear-proof garbage cans, provided at all campgrounds; when camping in the park’s backcountry, use the approved, portable bear-proof food canisters; never run from a bear, and do not drop your backpack if a bear charges you.
Detailed information about how to behave in bear country is available at park visitor centers and ranger stations. Please take the time to educate yourself about bear safety before enjoying the park. Through information and proper actions, you may help save the life of a bear.