While the two parks routinely issue these warnings at this time of year, visitors to the two parks should take particular notice of the warnings and read the information on being safe in bear country in light of the two fatal maulings that occurred in Yellowstone last summer.
In Grand Teton, recent sightings of bears or their tracks reveal that they are currently wandering locations from Huckleberry Hill in the Rockefeller Parkway to Pilgrim Creek near Jackson Lake Lodge, according to park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs. Bears may soon visit the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River and the park’s east boundary with Bridger-Teton National Forest, and developed areas at Flagg Ranch, Colter Bay, Beaver Creek and Kelly, Wyoming, she adds.
In Yellowstone, a grizzly bear was spotted earlier this month in the north-central portion of the park. Fresh tracks were also spotted during the same time frame in the Old Faithful area. There have also been several reports of grizzly bear activity in the Shoshone National Forest east of the park’s boundary during the previous week.
When bears leave their winter dens, they search for any food source that will help restore fat reserves lost during hibernation. Winter-killed animals provide immediate sources of protein, and hungry bears will strongly defend this and other food sources against perceived threats. Carcasses and freshly killed animals should serve as a point of caution—a red flag to make a detour away from the area. As snow banks recede, bears also dig up wildflower bulbs and burrowing rodents.
Adult male bears usually emerge from hibernation by mid to late March, followed by females without cubs. Female bears accompanied by cubs emerge later in the spring and are extremely protective of their young.
Park visitors are reminded to never approach a bear under any circumstances. This is particularly important for situations involving a bear near a carcass and other food sources, or a female bear with her cubs.
Park Service regulations require visitors to stay 100 yards from black and grizzly bears at all times. The best defense is to stay a safe distance from bears and use binoculars, a telescope or telephoto lens to get a closer look. All visitors traveling out of developed areas should stay in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail, keep an eye out for bears and carry bear spray. Bear spray has proven to be a good last line of defense, if kept handy and used according to directions when a bear is approaching within 30 to 40 feet.
While firearms are allowed in the parks, the discharge of a firearm is a violation of park regulations. Even the park’s law enforcement rangers who carry firearms on duty rely on bear spray, rather than their weapons, as the most effective means to deal with a bear encounter.
With the increased activity of bears, appropriate precautions must be taken. Visitors are advised to carry bear spray, keep it easily accessible and know how to properly handle it. Backcountry hikers should exercise good judgment, stay alert, and follow these recommended safety precautions: make noise, travel in a group of three or more, and maintain a 100-yard distance from bears at all times.
Visitors should report any bear sightings or signs to the nearest visitor center or ranger station as soon as possible. Timely reporting will help to keep bears away from unnatural food sources and allow park staff to provide important safety messages to visitors about bear activity.
Access to human food and garbage usually leads to food-conditioned bears. When bears lose their fear of humans, they often become a nuisance and a safety concern. Park visitors are reminded to keep food, garbage and other odorous items unavailable to bears at all times by storing attractants inside vehicles, by disposing of garbage in a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster, and by keeping personal items—such as backpacks or drink containers—with them at all times, especially when they contain food.
In Yellowstone, the park implements seasonal bear management areas closures to reduce encounters between bears and humans in areas where elk and bison carcasses are in high density. A listing of these closures can be found at this site.
For further information on how to behave when hiking, camping or picnicking in bear country in Grand Teton, read the park’s newspaper, Teewinot, online at this page. For traveling in Yellowstone's bear country, read the information on this page.