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Second Black Bear Euthanized In Yellowstone National Park


Another black bear in Yellowstone has been killed this summer because it had grown too fond of human foods. Traveler file photo of a bear in Grand Teton National Park by Kurt Repanshek.

For the second time this summer a black bear in Yellowstone National Park has been put down for developing too great a taste for human food. Park officials say the bear was killed Thursday after breaking into the backpacks of a "large group" of hikers.

What park officials can't yet say is whether anyone was cited for poor food handling. The spate of bears that have been euthanized in recent years begs the question of how humans who played a role in habituating the bruins to human foods were reprimanded.

Traveler has made inquiries to parks where bear incidents have gained visibility -- Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Sequoia, Yosemite and Denali -- both last year and in recent weeks and has had mixed responses. In Sequoia officials say they fortunately haven't had many problem bears, while in Denali they say only two wildlife-related citations were handed out to park visitors during 2007. In Grand Teton, more than 100 citations and warnings were handed out last year.

Backcountry -- and even front-country -- travelers in these parks should certainly be well-aware of how to stay safe in bear country, and how to keep bears from becoming used to human foods. In Yellowstone, for instance, hikers who are spending one or more nights in the backcountry must sit through a video that runs about 15 minutes and highlights how to keep a clean camp, how to store your foods, and what to do if you encounter a bear.

That informational process begs the question of how the latest black bear to die was able to rip "into into the packs of a large group of backcountry hikers"? Where were the hikers at the time? Had they properly stashed their packs?

According to Yellowstone officials, the 130-pound sub-adult male bear was killed because it posed a continuing threat to the safety of park visitors and employees. There have been multiple incidents involving this bear damaging property and obtaining human foods in the Hellroaring and Yellowstone River drainages in the north end of the park.

Repeated efforts to trap the bear were unsuccessful. Late Thursday afternoon, however, park staff caught the bear rooting through the backpacks.

"Based on his aggressive behavior, lack of fear of people, and its success at getting human food, the decision was made to immediately euthanize the bear," said park officials. "The area was cleared of all visitors and the bear was shot."

In Yellowstone regulations require you to stay a hundred yards – the length of a football field – away from black and grizzly bears at all times. When not in use, food, garbage, barbecue grills and other attractants must be stored in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes or hung at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet out from the trunk of the tree.

Due to deep snows last winter, in combination with the very late spring we experienced this year, many bears are in poor shape making it more likely that they will seek human foods. Once bears become conditioned to human foods they are much more likely to damage property and injure people in their efforts to obtain human foods.



Katmai & its bears! An example to tempt any advocate!

Poaching probably gains a bit higher profile in Katmai National Park than elsewhere (such as Yellowstone National Park) thanks to the dramatizations of Timothy Treadwell. He claimed that his own law-breaking and stark risks were justified by the specter of poaching, and he worked this assertion into his videography and public performances ... as the villain in his narrative.

The bears of Katmai have remained 'Park-bears' despite occasional abuse by trespassers and killings by Park authorities, just as the bears in Yellowstone remain 'Park-bears' despite a few poachers and killings by Rangers. The behavior of bears in Katmai isn't exceptional in this sense.

The case for hunt-conditioning of even dangerous bears remains as I depicted it previously: Hunting in Alaska produces healthy populations of grizzly bears across broad swaths of the general terrain that are wary of humans, permitting the two species to coexist in an integrated ecoscape.

Some say the only way to ensure the well-being of bears, is to drive humans from their habitat. Others say that to ensure the safety of humans, we must drive bears from our habitat. Both these assertions are mistaken, and to adopt either as our policy will impoverish the prospects & outlook for both species.


Thanks for the kudos, though without the depth and breadth of readers and their comments the site would be mono-dimensional.

That said, re your thoughts on bears and hunting, the devil's advocate surely might ask why the brown bears in Katmai don't seem to associate hunters with dire consequences. No doubt they are desensitized a great deal by the photographers and anglers who surround them much of the viewing season, but after getting plunked by arrows and bullets, those that survive such encounters you'd think would learn to flee humans and pass on that message, no?

In general, though, I agree that, more and more, national parks are turning into open-air zoos, ones quickly becoming genetically isolated as well.

Thank you Beamis - I appreciate your encouragement!

I am a little red, and a little green, unacceptably liberal, and disgustingly conservative. But I've been handicapped & disfigured this way for a long time, and it doesn't really bother me much anymore. ;-)

I saw right away that the National Park Traveler is an exceptionally well-done resource, populated by folks who respond in kind to Kurt Repanshek's quality efforts. I look forward to participating more.

This weekend I have a family reunion to attend (another specie of open-air zoo!), but look to returning in a few days!

Bravo Ted! It could not have been said better. I think that all of the bear and elk jams in Yellowstone and other parks certainly qualify as an unnatural human-induced circus. Frankly these situations frighten me way more than walking in known grizzly habitat. Your point is well taken and one not usually put forward in this forum.

Your insights are a welcome addition. I look forward to more of your musings and observations which definitely extend beyond the normal fare of green-tinted left-leaning eco-environmental sentimentalism that seems to predominate among those who support and use national parks. Again bravo, keep the insights coming.

Kurt asks:

But what happens to the bears if they don't have the habitat protections of a national park?

There are some parts of Yellowstone that are simply off-limits to humans so as not to interfere with grizzlies. Should more limits be instituted?

Black bears thrive in many parts of North America, without exclusionary habitat protection - without prohibiting human access. Black bears share the landscape with humans across much of our rural terrain. Nothing bad is happening to these populations, due to lack of human-excluding protections (on the contrary!).

Grizzlies are at least a bit different case, yes, but experience in Alaska encourages us to hope that cohabitation - sharing the land - is not so unreasonable in their case either.

The essential difference with grizzlies in Alaska, and in many rural conterminous regions with black bear, is that they are hunted. When bear are hunted, the cubs are taught that humans are to be avoided. This probably lasts for at least a few generations after the last negative experience with humans. It is not necessary to reduce the population (it is not even necessary that the hunting be fatal or injurious). In fact, they can actually overpopulate and still remain very wary of humans, if even light hunting activity continues.

But when all hunting-conditioning ceases, then we have what is observed in the high country of the Olympic National Park: bears begin to regard humans as an inert feature on the landscape. They have no fear or concern about us. The question is, is this the final, stable state in the bears' changing response to humans?

The sad answer is, not likely. Instead, bears will (individually, at first) continue to 'probe the resource' - meaning humans, and everything about them. They will push & explore the envelope, and this will lead to outcomes that will not be accepted. If a bear learns a valuable behavior - through human negligence or its own insistent investigations - and that animal reproduces, it will one day take the young to teach them what it has found to be of value.

Wildlife managers across America are now to some degree sitting on a powder keg, with respect to bear & cougar that are insufficiently wary of humans. Exactly to what degree and how long & fast the fuse might be, is the subject of much speculation & disagreement.

We do bears no favors, to let them reach a state in which they languidly lick blueberries while we fill our cameras. Just as it is our responsibility to instruct our pets that highways and automobiles are dangerous, the same ethic really applies to the conditioning of wild carnivores, that humans are the dominant predator the world over, and that to regard them in any other way - as a potential resource - is a dire mistake.

Ultimately, if we exclude all humans from Parks, in the hopes that bears will not have to be trained to fear humans, they will naturally disperse beyond the Parks and begin spreading across the country, unaware that humans are different from any other medium-sized mammal.

Yellowstone Park killed this most recent desensitized bear in hopes to forestall a more general outbreak of similar behavior. If it becomes evident that a free population of bears of unknown extent & distribution has adopted the same psychological stance toward people, then wildlife managers will likely be obliged to eradicate the entire population from some more or less large region.

That is the powder keg that the Rangers were trying to contain, when they saw what this 130 pound subadult male black bear was doing.

The underlying source of the problem is less that humans carry food on their backs, than that humans have chosen to treat bears as inert objects upon the landscape ... whereupon they have learned to reciprocate the attitude. Neither animal is inert, and to assume so is a possibly very expensive fallacy.

What we have in some protected ecosystems today is uncomfortably close to an open-air version of Siegfried & Roy.

Bears are curious intelligent animals and I think as long as there are humans nearby who eat, litter and recreate there are going to be inevitable encounters that result in some sort of conflict. Unfortunately the bears are usually the losers when this occurs.

A protected habitat is one where bears are isolated from contact. In a park with trails and lots of hikers this becomes increasingly problematic. I think most of Yellowstone is generally free of these types of encounters because of it's large size but, again, with millions of visitors annually it's just bound to happen.

But what happens to the bears if they don't have the habitat protections of a national park?

There are some parts of Yellowstone that are simply off-limits to humans so as not to interfere with grizzlies. Should more limits be instituted?

When you create a national park and then invite millions of people to visit them these kinds of things are just bound to happen. That it doesn't occur way more frequently truly does amaze me.

Littered campgrounds, folding chairs
Feed Doritos to the bears
Honey, quick, the polaroid

------From the Dead Kennedys song "Winnebago Warrior"

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