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Grand Teton Puts Down Another Bear

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For the third time in less than a month rangers in Grand Teton have put down a bear that had become too accustomed to human food. Kurt Repanshek photo.

It's beginning to sound like open season for black bears in Grand Teton National Park. For the third time in less than a month rangers have killed a black bear that had grown too accustomed to tying humans to food. This time the bear was a 60-pound male.

In recent weeks rangers killed two other black bears, both females, who had turned into problem bears because park visitors had left food out.

In the most recent case, the young male is thought to have obtained food in early August when visitors had left food unattended at Inspiration Point.

"Since then, this young bear repeatedly acquired food from people, once more at Inspiration Point but primarily at the Jenny Lake Campground and along the shores of Jenny Lake. He boldly approached people to take food and did this more frequently as time passed," park officials said. "During the first week of September, incidents involving this bear occurred almost daily. He showed no fear of humans by this time, approached families at picnic sites, walked around cars in parking areas, and even investigated a cabin in one incident, putting his paws up on the cabin window."

The park's news release did not mention whether any visitors were cited for making food available to the bear and calls to park officials were not immediately returned.

Comments

I worked in Grand Teton this summer as a seasonal ranger, and the bear situation was deplorable. The biggest problem was a lack of a ranger presence in the campgrounds. Some of you may recall that Grand Teton's campgrounds were "privatized" a few years ago. That was a terrible decision that has had a very direct impact on our wildlife.

Grand Teton and Yellowstone see millions of visitors every summer. I had a friend who was a campground ranger, and he used to spend all day in the campground, contacting numerous visitors about bears and food storage and confiscating food.

With the privatization, rangers from other divisions were asked to "fill in" with campground patrols in addition to their other duties. I can tell you for a fact that the campgrounds had days when there was zero ranger presence all day.

I might have had one or two hours to patrol the campground once or twice a week. And every time i did, i found major food violations. I would then contact park dispatch who usually sent someone from the lodge company to confiscate the items - i.e. no ticket for the offender - i.e. no lesson learned. Absolutely ridiculous!

Privatization is one of the most evil things currently being foisted off on the National Parks. It makes no sense to remove rangers from the campgrounds in such a high use park and replace them with a private company who then hires teenage workers from foreign countries to staff them.

It's no wonder visitors are breaking the rules and bears are being killed.

I had friends visit me this summer who stayed in the campground. When they registered, not only were they not given any warnings, but one of my friends asked the young man from the Chzek Republic working at the booth if he should worry about bears and the response was "No, we just have black bear. No worry."
Awesome, since we have both black and grizzly bears. And this was during the time period in which we were about to kill one of the "problem" black bears in the area.

I was so fed up and angry by the end of this summer, i seriously began to consider other career options. But then i remembered that it's about the parks. I love the parks and despite all the bureaucrats in charge, i can make a difference. I can change the operation from the inside.


My point is that over the longterm, this is no way to solve this problem (and it's actually no way to solve any law enforcement problem). There's posters all over my apartment complex to "report suspicious activity." There are two freaking plain clothes police officers living in my building, an attempt to intimidate and scare residents. Even if I see something suspicious, I am not going to report it. There's almost undoubtedly nothing good that will come of it except the continued use of harrassment to drive fear (even if they happen to catch a problem bear - ahem, I mean suspicious person).

In this case, the report was ignored until it was deemed a problem bear, and that leads to the death of the bear. By the time we reach a point where a sign is being posted to warn people of bears, where a chronicle of incidents is being reported, can we trust law enforcement to deal with what is essentially a cultural problem? There is no "suspicious activity" that is worth the fear and persecution that people face, especially people of color and those who don't speak English; there is no reason that bear management should essentially be a law enforcement issue (and however they mask it, that's what it is). --it that way, I'm also responding to posts above.

I was also not stereotyping you; I was trying to explain why I could understand why your report was stereotyped and how it would be reasonable to do that. Whatever the policy is, the individual ranger is going to be as cynical as anyone. The stereotype here is actually the reverse - that the person asked to carry out a policy is identical with those putting out the policy. Just as you and your group were people on a trail who took good precautions around bears, as opposed to most (not all) who get mauled and should not be identified with the larger culture of stupidity, the ranger is in the same position of having to figure out whether to put hikers into a frenzy because of an individual bear report (and in the Tetons, where there are fewer trails, black bear sightings are quite common - for instance, I've never been on the Cascade Canyon trail without some report somewhere). Anyhow, the point is to say that the larger cultural problem points the way to the solution. By the time we are at rangers posting signs and trying to discern your group from everyone else, it's too late. That bear is already in trouble (which is to say that any bear is already in trouble). We're not going to be able to help that bear, (only good news is that there probably is very little that needs to be done to help the hikers, who probably won't be mauled, and should already assume that they are in bear country). So, informed hikers like yourself are better off organizing educational events, working to change the culture for the future. Instead, we have a society that expects the Park Service to fix all the ills and be responsible for doing so. Frankly, they do about as good a job as anyone should expect under the circumstances. Their mistakes have been chronicled and their deficiencies noted (by me among others) - so much so that I believe we have to re-conceive the way we view parks and the entire "management" philosophy.

I just want to see people empower themselves - not just on the trail - but before people are on the trail. In the end, a cultural change will be much more helpful in "bear management" than making this a safety and law enforcement situation. That's the point.

And, because of incidents like this, you know it makes me - perhaps for very different reasons - less likely to report a bear sighting. It isn't that you weren't taken seriously; it's that you might be. And, when you are, the tendency of people in law enforcement is to overreact. We have far too many dead bears this year in and around Grand Teton. What's worse, we have too much additional sensationalization (that is magnified by those who share the stories that are reported). All of this won't help until we do more. In fact, I'm thinking of organizing an event myself. The last two years, I've organized events around Columbus Day to talk about genocide and imperialism, to inform people about the legacy of Euroamerican expansion. I probably can't do that this year because I'll have a newborn. What I can do, though, is talk about bears and hiking. Things are even worse here on the East coast when it comes to that. It is up to us to combat the myths that lead people like you (Randy) to not be taken seriously, even when you do exactly what they tell you to do, as well as those that lead others to be taken too seriously (who is that funny-looking man in the apartment complex?).

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


Randy,

I think you make an excellent point. Lately, I've noticed that, in some parks in particular, the condition of NPS trailhead bulletin boards is pathetic. Water stained interpretive brochures. No trail information. And no updated, if any, safety advice. I'm not saying that was the case at Grand Teton. Just something I've noticed elsewhere.

It's disappointing the ranger didn't take your report more seriously. It can be easy for park rangers to forget that many park visitors have more experience in the outdoors than they do. (I have been guilty of this myself.)

I read an article recently about the book "Night of the Grizzlies." In short, the author concluded that the NPS was negligent because they failed to warn hikers that certain paths were used by grizzlies to get to and from a garbage dump. A couple ended up camping on this path. One hiker was killed.

So I don't agree with what Jim implies. That bear problems are primarily the result of the stupidity and culture of park visitors. Yes, the park newsletters are chock full of safety advice. Yet, a park is a dynamic place. Hazards ebb and flow. Accidents and deaths are going to happen. But, if visitors are reporting that a certain trail is being frequented by an aggressive bear, the NPS should make an effort to warn hikers preparing to hike that particular trail. At the very least, your report to that ranger needed to be documented so that a pattern a bear behavior could be established.


Jim Macdonald,

This is not my first visit to the Tetons or Yellowstone, we hike annually in Glacier, Yellowstone, Tetons and Alberta, Canada. We have always been told to "Report all Bear Sightings" to rangers or park service employees so they can keep tabs on the bears, Banff National Park even has a web-site that lists encounters. You are stereotyping all visitors in your comments. We are respectfull of all wildlife and don not agitate or feed the animals.

We didn't continue our hike until we grouped up with another couple heading back to our cars, made lot's of noise ahead on the trail. I wasn't looking for a pat on the back from the ranger, just reporting the situation as I had been told to do on visits to other parks.

We had hiked the prior week in Yellowstone and there were daily posts on the trailhead of bear sightings, I guess Teton Natiuonal Park Rangers do not find that necessary.

Randy Wolf
Phoenix, AZ


"It is what bears do," but this situation could have avoided if people had taken the time to inform each other about bears and this bear in particular. Not all organizing is advocacy organizing. We are still combating long held cultural stereotypes about the joys of feeding animals as well as the simultaneous sensationalizing of bear attacks. As I cover Yellowstone, I read countless number of people who think they are going to some big outdoor zoo and are upset when they don't see "Yogi" (can point you to blog links if you'd like). Just yesterday, a couple thought it only appropriate that when in Yellowstone, it is only appropriate to order buffalo for dinner and then flippantly remark that the cousins outside might not like that. It's not hard to see how from those kind of cultural attitudes that we are not far from the needless death of a lot of animals - including that bison's cousin who do in fact die every year (probably unbeknownst to the recent blogger to which I am referring).

So, yeah, the ranger can put up a sign - great. I'm skeptical that it matters. There are so many warnings, so much literature on this, so many ranger programs on this, and certainly not enough rangers to go out and put a warning out for every bear a group of tourists says is aggressive - especially when the odds of even so much as a bear mauling to happen to you are in most years several million to one (and death? - you are many times more likely to die from a terrorist attack than by a bear; that's just how rare they are).

But, because of culture and stupidity, as well as the lack of social responsibility that people have (and understandably so in our society), bears suffer and die while people have an inordinate amount of fear and fascination. If we want to protect bears and hikers alike, we have to take on the culture aggressively that treats bears and other animals as a kind of joke. At the same time, it means attacking the tactics of the advocacy groups who use people's cultural stereotypes about wildlife to feed their own coffers (and some of these groups, I otherwise support!) Bears are bears; they might attack, in some cases, they'd like to get your food (especially when food is scarce). They aren't always not going to be aggressive. However, humans are humans, and we aren't going to want to be attacked by bears; at the same time, we don't want to see bears needlessly die. If we really believe that, let's inform each other. Let's tell each other the truth about bear attacks, put it in context, and help each other cope with the reality of our choices and the choices of bears. And, if you want to help, hold educational events in your own towns. They are very easy to put together. Find a space willing to host it (a library, a church space, an outdoor space), put out some email announcements, maybe some fliers, and inform your neighbors. If the topic is bears, I'll bet you'll get several dozen people. That's how we do this - we can't reduce this or any other situation to the understandable skepticism of a ranger at the other end of a phone. In that ranger's shoes, I can perfectly understand his snide reaction.

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


We reported this Bear to the Ranger at Jenny Lake on August 29, 2007, we had 5 hikers turned around coming towards us on the trail by the String Lake Trailhead, they had encountered the black bear and said it was aggressive towards them.

We continued on the trail with another couple and made lot's of noise and had the bear spray ready, there were at least 4 areas of fresh bear scat on the trail towards the ranger station and ferry just south of String lake.

My problem was with the Park Ranger when we reported the Bear sighting, after explaing the story he laughed and said, that's what bears do, they are hungry and looking for food. We reported this in hopes the rangers who at least put a warning notice up on the trail.


So, when do they begin the sensible course of action......close the park until people can act responsibly? Hopefully, the winter snows will come early and often.


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