Several bear encounters in Yellowstone National Park and a bear attack in a campground have prompted Yellowstone rangers to kill two black bears and remind people of the proper storage and handling of supplies and food while in the park, according to an announcement from the park.
In June, a black bear bit a woman while she rested inside her tent in a sleeping bag. The woman’s thigh was bruised from the bite, but her skin was not broken because of the tent’s fabric and the thickness of the sleeping bag. Rangers aren’t sure why the bear bit her. They suspect the bear had gained access to human food in the same area in previous years.
In the same campsite along the Little Cottonwood Creek rangers set up cameras and a decoy tent at the campsite. The bear returned and aggressively tore the tent. The bear was killed on-site on June 11.
Then, in a backcountry campsite along the Lamar River Trail in early July, campers left food unattended while packing gear. A black bear got into the campers’ food and ate about 10 pounds of it. The next day different campers at that site had numerous encounters with the same bear, the release says.
Attempts to haze the bear failed, and after relocating multiple campers from the area, rangers killed the bear on July 10. That incident is still under investigation, according to the press release.
Just eight days later, a black bear caused property damage to tents and vehicles while foraging in the Indian Creek Campground. Park staff hazed the bear and set up cameras to monitor the area. If the bear returns, it may be hazed again or removed, the release says.
“I think the point is that its bold behavior ... when they’re exhibiting that kind of behavior, something is askew or different,” stated Morgan Warthin, public relations specialist for the park.
The deaths of the two bears, and subsequent encounters, match the average number of conflicts for the park per year, Warthin said. But the encounters were more serious than average, she added.
“We re-evaluated the incident last month and looked at the two that occurred in July and felt like at this point (we’d) give the education of emphasizing proper food storage,” Warthin said.
Encounters with bears usually don’t cause injury or death. Since the establishment of the park, eight people have been killed by bears. It’s much more likely for a person to die by falling into a hot spring or from drowning, according to data from the park. The chance of getting injured by a bear is 1 in 2.7 million, the park advises.
But bears become emboldened when they get “conditioned” to human food, Warthin said. Bears conditioned to human food can become aggressive and lose fear toward people. Warthin didn’t know whether there was an underlying issue as to why the black bears sought human food, other than it’s “easy to come by.”
How humans store the food is also a key factor. Locking food in a car overnight, for example, doesn’t prevent bears from getting inside. Storing food in proper bear-safe boxes provided in most front country campsites, or bear-bagging, can help prevent bears from getting a snack.
When a bear does become habituated to eating human food and demonstrates aggression, rangers often have to kill the bear. According to the park, relocating a habituated bear isn’t a typical approach because there are no areas in the park where it wouldn’t have access to injure someone or damage property; other parks or states don’t want an aggressive food-conditioned bear; and bears have large home ranges and good memories, meaning they’ll likely find their way back to the original area where they consumed human food.