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.