Keeping Yellowstone Safe for Bears
Preventing bears from obtaining human foods is the foundation of Yellowstone National Park’s Bear Management Program. Bears that become conditioned to human food often become more aggressive about trying to obtain it, and can damage property or injure people in the process. Fortunately, the Yellowstone Park Foundation has launched a new program to install bear-proof food storage containers in the Park, and is now offering a very special opportunity to Sponsor a Bear Box.
A Danger Zone
There’s a common saying in the Greater Yellowstone Area: A fed bear is a dead bear. The catchy phrase belies the seriousness of the problem. Once a bear starts to associate humans with food, it likely leads to disaster.
In Yellowstone, these problem bears must be removed from the Park population due to concerns for human safety. “Removed” means sent to a zoo or—sadly—euthanized. Just about every year, rangers have the difficult job of putting down a Yellowstone bear.
Last summer, two black bears were euthanized in the Park due to increasingly aggressive behavior near visitors. The first bear approached visitors in the Beaver Lake Picnic Area and the Indian Creek Campground, and was able to obtain a significant amount of human food. Two weeks later, another black bear was captured after repeatedly obtaining human food from hikers’ backpacks in the Hellroaring and Yellowstone River drainages, in the north end of the Park.
“These were tragic circumstances, but we did what we needed to do to protect visitors,” said Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone’s Bear Management biologist. “In both instances, the bears’ success in obtaining food led to increasingly aggressive behavior. If they had not been able to get food, these situations would not have occurred.”
A Solution to Protect Bears and Visitors
According to Gunther, the use of “bear boxes” is a proven method to prevent bears from becoming conditioned to human foods. These large, bear-proof food storage containers are provided for visitor use, and they are highly effective in preventing bears from obtaining human foods.
The most likely place for a bear to become conditioned to human food in Yellowstone is at a roadside campground. The problem is that less than 25% of the campsites in roadside campgrounds currently have bear boxes where food can be stored safely.
“We know that bear boxes work because they have been tested with captive bears at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. The bears at the Center are professionals at getting into bear-proof devices, having been used to test many different designs of food and garbage storage containers,” said Gunther. “They were unable to break or open the type of food storage boxes that we use in Yellowstone National Park.”
The Yellowstone Park Foundation has committed to raising funds for the Park to purchase and install 50 rugged bear boxes at priority campsites. The 30-cubic-foot boxes are made of 12-gauge steel, with rustproof hinges and latches, to withstand the abuses of weather, as well as animals. They are attached to thick metal poles which are set into the ground with cement.
The boxes will be a convenient and easy-to-use method for securely storing food and large coolers. In addition to enhancing visitor safety, and combined with visitor education efforts already in place, the boxes will reduce the risk that bears will need to be destroyed.
Sponsor a Bear Box
Now, the Yellowstone Park Foundation is offering individuals and groups a very special opportunity to Sponsor a Bear Box. For every $1,000 we raise, Yellowstone will install a bear box in a Park campground.
With a contribution of any amount toward the purchase of a bear box, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you are playing a direct role in making Yellowstone safer for both bears and visitors. As a $1,000 sponsor, you will also receive special benefits and recognition, including your name engraved on a plaque that is permanently affixed to the Bear Box.
For the last few decades, Yellowstone has been a safe haven for bears, and a particularly important stronghold for grizzlies, which now occupy only 2% of their original range in the lower 48 states. This project will maintain Yellowstone’s status as a leader in bear-human conflict resolution and prevention, and—ultimately—increase the survival rate of the Park’s magnificent bears.
Bear box photo, top: Testing bear boxes at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. Photo courtesy of NPS.
Bear box photo, bottom: Courtesy of BearSaver