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Yellowstone ranger scares bear after bluff charge in dramatic video

A National Park Service photo of a Yellowstone grizzly, not the one shown in the video.  (Courtesy of Jim Peaco)
A National Park Service photo of a Yellowstone grizzly, not the one shown in the video. (Courtesy of Jim Peaco)
By Brett French The Billings Gazette

BILLINGS – Dramatic online video of a large grizzly bear charging a Yellowstone National Park ranger on May 28 has been circulating online, gathering more than half a million views.

The images show the ranger shouting and gesturing at people to move back and signaling cars to halt when the bear emerges from the forest looking at the surrounding crowd. Then the big bear sees the ranger and charges. A woman with YouTube user Jay dawg, who posted the video, is heard gasping in surprise as her male companion urges her to “get it on video.”

When the charge started, the ranger has his back turned to the bruin. As the ranger rushes out of the camera frame to his parked pickup truck, the bear halts its charge, rears up on its hind legs and turns around before facing the ranger again. When the ranger returns into view, he has a shotgun and begins firing bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to scare the bear away.

After the first shot the bear turns and runs back into the forest. The ranger continues to shoot as he walks down the road, firing four rounds in all, ending with loud cracker shells meant to scare the bear away from the area.

“The resource management bear technician in the video did an excellent job of hazing the aggressive bear away from visitors who obviously had no clue what kind of danger they were in,” said Cam Sholly, Yellowstone superintendent, in a statement. “His actions likely saved lives. Nonlethal bean bags and rubber bullets were used in this situation and are some of the tools we use to haze wildlife away from visitors.”

The incident took place in the north end of the park between Norris Junction and Swan Lake Flat, according to the Park Service.

“Many people were outside of their vehicles and dangerously close (within 20 yards) to a breeding pair of grizzly bears. The adult male grizzly became agitated as individuals did not comply with the ranger’s instructions and approached the bears too closely to take photos and blocked them from crossing the road.”

The hazing techniques used by the ranger are common for Yellowstone staff trying to move bears and other wildlife away from developed areas and roads to protect visitors and the animals, the Park Service said.

The interaction occurred the same day a man was injured by a grizzly bear while hiking near Mammoth Hot Springs. In April, an angler outside the park’s West Entrance was mauled by a grizzly along the Madison River. The West Yellowstone man died following surgery for the injuries. The bear was later killed after it charged wildlife officials as it sought to protect a dead moose carcass.

Last week, park staff also posted a Facebook request seeking information on a woman filmed too close to a grizzly sow and its yearling cubs. The sow bluff charged the woman, who had approached too closely to take photos of the feeding bears alongside a road.

“We’ve already seen numerous close calls with bears this year and had one visitor seriously injured last week,” Sholly said. “Visitors need to maintain appropriate distances to wildlife and understand these animals are wild and can kill or injure humans very easily if threatened.”

The incidents are a worrisome trend for Yellowstone officials as they prepare for what could be the park’s busiest summer ever. Since international travel is restricted, pandemic-weary travelers are seeking domestic destinations. Many of those tourists are unfamiliar with wildlife and approach too closely or are unprepared when hiking trails.

Consequently, the Park Service is reminding visitors to always stay 100 yards away from bears, for their safety as well as the wildlife.

“If you stop to watch a roadside bear in Yellowstone, you have a responsibility to behave in a way that doesn’t put people, or the bear, at risk,” the agency said in a statement. “If a park ranger is present, do as they say.”

Visitors can learn more about park guidelines by logging on to Yellowstone’s website at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/roadside-bears.htm.

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