Don’t feed the bears

SUNDAY, JULY 13, 2014

Yellowstone led way in educating national park visitors

In another example of the adage “a fed bear is a dead bear,” Glacier National Park rangers captured and euthanized a 3-year-old black bear last month. The animal had become conditioned to human food and had entered the Fish Creek Campground one too many times.

It’s a sad loss of wildlife, begging the question: What happens to those responsible for the bear’s slow conditioning?

“Improper food storage was the second-most common violation in 2012 in Glacier Park,” said park spokeswoman Jennifer Lutman. “This year (through June), we’ve already seen roughly 100 citations issued for improper food storage.”

Lutman said the citations have included both warnings and tickets. A violation of the park’s food storage rules may result in a $75 fine.

Upon entering national parks, wilderness areas or national forest campgrounds in the West, visitors are likely to see the signs warning campers to keep their food properly stored.

Officials in Yellowstone National Park, who led the trend, enforce the postings daily, calling it a human safety factor. Like Glacier, Yellowstone is home to grizzlies and black bears.

“We’re very aggressive on our food storage issues,” said Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash. “We’re going to be in every campground, every night monitoring the situation.”

Nash said the park’s goal remains education over punishment. In 2010, he said, rangers issued 126 citations for “camping violations.” Speeding remains the park’s leading offense.

“We really feel our focus on the prevention has been very successful over the years,” Nash said. “That’s one of the many ways we’ve been able to minimize bear-human conflicts.”

According to the Yellowstone Park Foundation, an average of 48 bear-inflicted human injuries and more than 100 incidents of property damage occurred annually in Yellowstone between 1931 and 1969.

“I’m old enough to have remembered from my earlier visits the black bears begging for food along the roadsides,” Nash said. “The real big change occurred here in the mid-to-late ’60s, when we really made a conscious decision to remove garbage and other potential food sources, and establish and install bear-proof garbage cans.”

The park made sweeping changes to its bear management policies in 1970, the year it also implemented strict enforcement rules. Other parks learned from the experience in Yellowstone, where rangers now work to keep food away from bears, and bears away from people.

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