Black Bears in Denali, Grand Teton National Parks Killed

Black bears in Denali and Grand Teton national parks recently were killed, one because it was acting aggressively, another because it obviously had come to associate humans with food.

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.

Comments

It's a shame that these bears had to die because humans were acting irresponsibly in the bears' range.....The HUMANS should have been removed from the bears' habitat!!!!! The stupid people that left food in their tents should have been fined stiffly and forbidden to come back to the park. [Ed. The unfortunate incident at Denali doesn't appear to have been a case of humans acting irresponsibly in bear country. At last report, the NPS had not yet determined -- if they ever will --why that particular black bear had become so aggressive.]

I totally agree with that. Take the humans out of the bears habitat!!!!!!!!!

I agree- Take the humans out of the bears homes.

I wish it was as simple as the Not-Verifieds above would have it. But think about it? We should remove humans from Alaska? From Wyoming? There have been human beings in these areas for at least twenty thousand years (and probably much longer).

The question becomes how do we choose to live in bear country. Unfortunately, unless a good healthy respect for other beasts is engrained in us, these kinds of unnecessary deaths are going to occur. We are a nature-stupid people for the most part and need to be re-educated in how to live with wildness.

I think the only REAL solution to this is to come down HARD on violators. This takes a political resolve the NPS doesn't have right now (can you blame them? they're just trying to keep the restrooms from overflowing). Without serious consequences to bad behavior in wildlands, there is no real education of the public.

I agree for the most part with Glenn. People take the time to educate themselves when they visit a foreign country about the culture, language, etc…but they do not take the time to learn about the wild life that will be affected by their visit to a National Park or remote area. Some advanced planning would eliminate some of the problems with the wild creatures we come across but it will not stop every negative experience. The rangers need to keep everyone safe including the stupid ones…and I am positive it breaks their hearts to have to kill any animal for just acting like the animal they are. They must have an intense love of nature and animals or they would have chosen a different path in life. I have visited Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Tetons many times and have seen many bears in their natural landscape. I would never put them in harms way but feeding or getting overly comfortable with them as many have tried to do but if one were being aggressive for no reason that I could determine, I know I would appreciate knowing the rangers are there for protection. Even then, they can’t be in all places at once and in a remote area, you are taking the risk yourself by being in those area alone.

What a shame. People have their decent side but they also have their monster side. It makes you wonder are we really going to get away with all the damage we have caused to our natural world. Imagine the people that get away with this senseless crap just go about their business. That bear was a female probably searching for food for her cubs. Well cubs your mom wont be coming home with dinner ever again. Regardless of policy you had no right to be God and take that Bears life. That Bear was home being a bear and she was hungry. Thats not a good enough reason to die, regardless of your policy. We have ours coming She bear spirit. Sorry this had to happen to you.

I live in virginia beach and down here like any other ocean state, when there is a shark attack the first thing we do is kill the shark. These dumb folks went up to bear country, the bears didnt come to them. So the inexperince of these campers and the death of these bears just don't to me seem to weight the same. How did the one bear get a taste of human food? I can tell you some lazy ass camper didnt properly get rid of there trash. The bear didnt go grocery shopping. As far as the other party is concerned, they went to big bear country, that bear in the wild has the right of way. Like down here at the beach when we go swimming out in the ocean, we are in fishville, or fish city so it's a chance we take. so If you don't want bear trouble then stay out of the bears neck of the woods.

Does Grant Teton still has eastern European college students as campground wardens, who neither speak enough English nor are trained how to pass the information on how important it is to keep food away from bears? The Denali case looks just like bad luck, but since the campgrounds in Grand Teton are operated by concessionaires and not staffed adequately, the NPS had to take down a number of bears every season.

See http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2007/09/grand-teton-puts-down-another-bear and the comments by Melissa there.

I think someone really needs to look at the hiring practices of the concessionaires - an article last year gave all kinds of reasons for the shift from domestic workers to foreign workers during the summer (citing the length of the work season, a lack of interest by domestic workers, etc. - though I'd bet that most Americans think it's really hard to get a job in a national park). However, when you look at the countries involved by reading name tags, this smacks of deals related to trade agreements and guest worker programs. But, I've never really seen anyone pursue that side of the story, and I want to know - because the workers here are actually getting the bum end of the deal in many of the cases. I love the foreign workers and have nothing against any of them; I have a serious problem with the fishy recruiting and hiring practices.

It seems, though, from experience that there are fewer foreign workers at campgrounds and working reservations. When I stayed at Colter Bay recently for an evening, it didn't matter how many gazillion times I'd been through it, the worker had to run me through the full protocol involving bears - she did an excellent job. The fact is that people just don't listen, don't read what they're given, and simply are willful ignoramuses on these things. I've had to yell at people I don't know how many times for approaching buffalo, moose, feeding squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots. People just don't know, but they should. And, it's a shame - this bear is now dead for something that is perfectly preventable.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I was raised in the mountains of West Virginia and spent a lot of time outdoors. Even as kids we were taught how to treat nature and and animals. The problem with these [national] parks is that the people that usually visit them are from the city, and have no idea what they are doing. They go buy all the best equipment, but they do not think to go take a nature course before they go into the wild. I hate to hear anyone trying to make excuses for the agencies that are supposed to "protect nature" destroying it instead. All for the "safety" of the public. In reality it is just so the parks bottom line is not hurt. It's the same old story as everything else in this corrupt world it's all about money!

Good article and I agree with most comments. It is unfortunate that bears have access to so much easy human food and food waste, but the average camper/hiker really does not have a clue about the outdoors, nature, or survival. The bears do and they are very good at it. Much more bear education is needed, of course standing next to a Bison for a picture is not too smart either; to get the public to understand that cleaning up camp, proper trash disposal, storing food and all smellables in an approved container has to be done by everyone, sorry Kurt the car is not secure. It is at best a minor anoyance and will only cause a short delay while the bear breaks the window and crawls in or hooks it's claws under the lip of the trunk and pops the lid or my favorite, takes the door off the RV and really goes to town in the RV's kitchen. Mammoth CA, 1998 The owners were shocked, just amazed that a black bear could do such a thing. Like most bad events that happen, people think it won't happen to them and so they don't take the steps necessary to be minorly inconvenienced and put safety first: theirs and the bears.

We have stayed at the Colter Bay campground for four nights right after this happened. We have been given instruction on what not to do with the food and other odorous stuff and there are signs and notes everywhere, on the picnic table, in the restrooms, EVERYWHERE.
There are also food storage boxes provided per every loop, sinks for gray water and proper garbage containers.
There is a bear safety talk every evening with a park ranger.
Maybe there should be a fence around the campground, and "police" supervising every site.
People must be [taught] to be afraid of bears! If we are afraid of bears, we will store food properly and learn what to do in case we do surprise a bear.
It is stupid careless people that allowed for that 9 year old to die, just because that bear female was smart and learned where to find food.
I want to know what happened to the campers that were so careless.