Bears are part of the package if you travel to the High Sierra parks -- Sequoia, Kings Canyon, or Yosemite -- and you should know what to expect and how to react if you encounter one this summer.
Even though the bears in these three parks are black bears, not grizzlies, that doesn't diminish the damage they can do to you or your vehicle if they want to. Cars and trucks have literally been ripped apart by bears that sense there might be food within.
The following guidelines were prepared by the folks at Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park, but they can be applied to the other two parks as well.
During warmer months, the American black bear may be spotted at a variety of elevations throughout Sequoia National Park. The best places are those locations that serve as food sources, such as meadows and insect-laden logs in the spring and near berry bushes in the summer. At a breathtaking 7,000 feet, the Wuksachi Lodge not only provides unique mountain accommodations for guests, its panoramic setting affords bear-sighting opportunities right outside its windows. But whether at the lodge or on the trails, it’s important to remember a few ‘bear essentials.’
Highly intelligent and adaptable, black bears thrive in Sequoia National Park. Despite their name, black bears can be brown, cinnamon or blonde. Black bears are not usually aggressive, and often escape danger by climbing a tree. But some bears learn to associate people with food, and as a result lose their instinctive fear of humans. This begins a cycle of unnatural behavior that is dangerous to both bears and humans. The familiar wilderness axiom applies: please don’t feed the animals!
Always be sure any food, scented items and/or food storage containers are stored properly and removed from vehicles. Actively feeding a bear is one of the worst things a human can do, but improper storage of food can be just as bad and leads to ‘problem’ bears that end up getting put down because they become aggressive.
Spotting a bear in Sequoia National Park can certainly be thrilling. Binoculars and cameras are great tools for observing bears from a safe distance. In the event of an encounter that feels a little too close for comfort, here are some general rules for visitors to follow:
* Do not run. Running may elicit a chase response by the bear.
* Group together to appear large and be sure to pick up small children and restrain pets.
* Don’t linger too long.
* Don’t get between a female and her cubs (they may be up in a nearby tree).
* Don’t crowd or block a bear’s escape route. Slowly retreat or make a wide detour.
* If a bear huffs and shows its profile it may be ready to bluff charge. Stand ground or back away slowly. Again, do not run.
* If alone, raise arms and yell loudly at the bear to “Back off!”
In addition, it is essential to the black bear population that drivers slow down in the park. Bears are injured every year as a result of getting hit by cars. Drivers who obey all posted speed limits and keep an eye out for bears crossing the road can greatly help reduce these kinds of incidents.
Another way for visitors to learn more about black bears and other Sequoia National Park wildlife is at the Lodgepole Visitor Center just a few miles from Wuksachi Lodge. Along with exhibits on the area’s geologic history, wildlife and longtime American Indian inhabitants, the center screens a 22-minute film about bears. More bear safety tips can be found at this park web page.