An experience to treasure when visiting a National Park is the sighting of wildlife – from birds to bears, the parks provide a glimpse into the native habitat of American fauna. But according to the National Park Service mission statement (based on the NPS Organic Act), park lands are also preserved for the enjoyment of the people, whose ideas of enjoyment often conflict with the natural behavior of wild animals. Yosemite National Park is home to a significant Black Bear population and the NPS expends great effort to manage this population within the park. Yosemite is also home to a significant tourist population, especially in the summer, with heavy foot and vehicle traffic guaranteed to create conflict with the native bear population.
Park visitors are repeatedly warned about the dangers of speeding and leaving food or scented items in cars, campsites and personal belongings. Bears are killed every year by vehicles not observing posted speed limits within the park. Bears also have an extremely keen sense of smell and items besides food, such as toothpaste, smell like dinner to them. Great physical strength allows bears to easily break into cars and unsecured garbage receptacles to find the items they smell. This behavior is unnatural for bears, but is encouraged by the behavior of people, often with a fatal result for the bear. Bears who demonstrate no fear of humans and consistently damage property to feed on garbage or unsecured food are euthanized. Following the guidelines to discourage bears while visiting the park contributes to the preservation of the bear population in Yosemite. Improper food storage is also against the law in Yosemite National Park resulting in citations and fines for offenders.
Wildlife biologists at Yosemite record statistics about the park’s bear population, including fatalities. As of June 12, 2010, the yearly statistics for Yosemite’s bears include the following:
- Eight bears hit by vehicles resulting in five fatalities (six of these in the last two weeks)
- Bears have caused $31,000 in property damage in ten areas of Yosemite Valley ($19,000 in damage occurred in parking lots)
- Incidents where bears have interacted with humans or property to obtain food: 131
Bears in Yosemite are often captured, tagged and released in order to track their movement in the park, particularly concerning interaction with park visitors. Bears are fitted with colored and numbered cattle tags in the ear and the color/number combination is assigned arbitrarily. Park biologists are interested in bear sightings and you can call the Save-A-Bear hotline at 209-372-0322 or send an email message via the NPS Yosemite website.