National Park Service Official Information On Bears

I can can see it now; the newcomer to Yosemite hears repeated warnings about bears....  

The uninitiated conjures an image of a giant, slathering, skulking, flesh-tearing monster prowling the night for young children who will be torn from their mothers arms, dragged away screaming, and never seen again.

Oh pshaw!

Yes, there's no question that the common Black Bear found in quantity in Yosemite, is a large, strong, potentially dangerous animal.  But, so is the family German Shepherd or Golden Retriever.  Is this to say that the Black Bear has the temperament of a Golden Retriever?  Absolutely not.   The best analogy I can offer is, that Yosemite bears are the Rocky Balboa (of the "ROCKY" movies) of the animal world.  That is to say, the key to staying out of trouble with them is to avoid pissing them off, which is real easy to do. Avoiding it, I mean. However, when motivated, they can eat your butt.  Don't motivate them.  

Basically, here's the main thing you should remember:

bearsare_2.gif (1825 bytes)

one more time:

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Are we clear?  ARE WE CLEAR?
(with apologies to Jack Nicholson)

Bears are NOT the ferocious beast-of-prey people might think.  But, neither are they the Yogi and Boo-Boo your kids can pet.  However, they do have the focus of Yogi and Boo-Boo; that is, they ALWAYS want your "pick-a-nick basket!"  They are lazy, EXTREMELY intelligent, strong, hungry, resourceful (they send their young to fetch food in places they themselves cannot go), opportunistic food thieves.  They are pain-in-the-ass pesks who run away when encouraged to do so in the proper manner, but will often come right back when the noise dies down.  (More often than not, they move on to easier pickings.)

Leave food in your car and you run a better-than-even chance you will have severe damage to it the next morning.   Don't just put your food in an ice chest, and think you have "hidden" your food from the bears.  NOOOOO!  They are way ahead of you.  They know what an ice chest looks like and that there's food in them.  Put the ice chest in the trunk of your car?  HA!  They can smell it even double-bagged in your trunk.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have walked through the campground in Tuolumne Meadows at dawn and seen half-empty bags of Oreos in plain sight, or half-eaten hot dogs from dinner still sitting on the picnic table, or dirty dishes stacked in a large wash basin. Those people were lucky their campsite was not torn to shreds.

It's no wonder there is a bear nuisance problem with STUPID, IDIOTIC people who leave food lying around for the bears to eat.   People deserve what they get if they ignore the simple precautions you MUST take:

The ONLY sure-fire way to thwart bears from getting your food is to PUT IT IN THE METAL FOOD LOCKERS (BEAR BOXES) THAT ARE ALL OVER THE VALLEY AND IN TUOLUMNE!!!  In the back country you must either use the plastic containers found in most backpacking shops or for rent in the wilderness center in the Valley, or hang your food.  I have never had trouble when I hung my food properly.  Yes, there are bears who know how to defeat hung food, but you have a better chance of meeting a bear in developed campsites than in a remote, isolated, backcountry one-night campsite.  At Vogelsang and the other High Sierra Camps, the bears patrol the transient campsites regularly, and the rangers have installed bear boxes for food storage.  USE THEM!!  Also, store fragrant soaps, lotions, toothpaste, salt, food seasonings, mosquito repellent, etc. Clean out your car for the night by removing ALL items that even LOOK like food or if a bear could THINK there was food in a container; empty grocery sacks, Burger King or McDonald's cups and bags, etc.  Think like a bear.  If you were looking in your car, is there anything you would think had food in it? Remove camera cases, purses, shopping bags, beach bags, stuff sacks, drink cups, empty soda cans, etc.  Leave the inside of your car as empty and unattractive as you can.  Wash all dishes, burn all food and food wrappers, potato chip bags, Twinkies wrappers, and dispose of all table scraps in a paper bag, then throw the bag in a Park Service dumpster.  (You'll know one when you see it)

What to do if a bear does walk into your campsite.
(Ain't no big thang)
If, by chance, a bear does walk into your campsite, or you confront one on the trail,  first look to see if there are cubs around, and if so, be careful to avoid.  Then, shout, wave your arms, bang pots and metal objects loudly (They hate the sound of metal; like fingernails down a chalkboard to bears.).  Do NOT chase or approach a bear at close range.  Stand your ground, make plenty of noise and wave your arms and they will go away sooner or later. Do NOT throw rocks at the bears!  A pack of cub scouts killed a bear couple of years ago by hitting one in the head with a rock when it walked into their campsite. The kid who threw the rock was prosecuted for destroying Federal property!!!  Unless you have a fresh-cooked 20 pound turkey sitting on the picnic table, the bear will not want to bother with so much distraction.  But be vigilant, because they sometimes come back when you've chased them away, especially at night.

Audio: Tom Brough, my campground neighbor, and I discussing an active bear at Little Yosemite Campground July 2, 1999. (928k; 1:58) Click here

Here's some more good advice:.

Here's how to p***-off a bear:

1. Jump on it's back and pull it's ears straight back real hard, and then poke it in the eyes.
2. Stick it in the side with a sharp stick.
3. Stomp on it's foot with trail boots on.
        -or- (in all seriousness)
4. Approach it's young; if you see a big bear with two little ones, be still and move away slowly.   If you see a big bear alone, look around to see if cubs are around.  Ditto for a cub, or cubs, alone.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER APPROACH A CUB!!!!!
5. Try to take food away from it that it has already seized.  Once it has your food bag, wave goodbye to it.

Here's how to invite sniffing and poking around in your camp site:

        1. Leave an open, half-empty bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken sitting on top of the roof of your car, or on top of the picnic table.
        2. Eat a whole bag of barbecue potato chips, don't wash your hands, rather, wipe them all over the shirt you sleep in, , and leave the open empty bag right outside your tent.
        3. Fry bacon in the morning, and be sure to drizzle the grease under the picnic table, or, better yet, around the perimeter of your campsite, or even better, around your tent.   
        4. On that same theme, discard the table scraps on the ground right near your campsite.
        5. Eat Twinkies in your tent right before bedtime and leave the wrapper in your tent.

By the way, should a bear do damage to your car or camp site, you will be fined HEAVILY by the ranger if you are found to be negligent in storing your food!!!  Believe it or not, improper food storage in the park is a Federal crime!!

Am I making the point?  DON'T BE STUPID and you should have no trouble with the bears.

Don't believe me?
Read this...

Yosemite Valley

Early this week 11 vehicles were broken into by bears mostly in the Curry
Village parking lots. There were only two incidents in the Pines
campgrounds this week although bears have been observed most nights
wandering through the campgrounds. Housekeeping Camp and Curry Village both
had incidents this week, mostly bears getting food from food storage
lockers that are left unsecure.

A bear entered three homes in the upper NPS housing area last week. Bears
easily learn how to get into houses when people leave their windows open
while they are away at work or on vacation. Often these bears will become
bold as they learn that food is available inside of homes.  If you live in
or near Yosemite, please help to prevent this by closing your windows when
you are not home, and keeping windows near your kitchen or in unoccupied
rooms closed when you are not awake.

Numerous dumpsters were found unclipped this week.  Bears are able to
ďmailĒ themselves into unclipped dumpsters, but then become trapped inside.
If the bear isnít discovered before the garbage truck arrives, the bear can
be killed by compaction.  Please stop and secure any dumpsters, including
the recycling dumpsters, you see unclipped Ė it could save a bearís life!

Bear activity has picked up in Glen Aulin this week with 2 more reported
bear incidents. The bear seems to be in the area very regularly. If you are
going backpacking please remember to keep track of your food and keep it
latched in your bear canister or in a food storage locker where provided.
Bears are out during the day and night. Donít forget about proper food
storage during daylight hours! (T. Seher - 7/15/08)

Yosemite Beset by Savvy Bears

By Harriet Chiang
San Francisco Chronicle - May 22, 1998

When Cindy Farabaugh went to her car in a Yosemite
parking lot Wednesday morning, she discovered an ugly

Two vans parked on either side of her Cadillac Seville had
been broken into. The rear windows had been smashed and
clothes, crackers, and Cheetos were strewn on the ground.
Telltale prints left no doubt about who the vandals were:
hungry, savvy bears.

"Boy, I parked in the wrong place," Farabaugh said as she
watched a mechanic try to start her car, which had been
damaged after a bear had jumped on the hood during its
nocturnal food raid.

Spring is a magic time in Yosemite when the snow begins
to melt, the dogwoods bloom and the Merced River glitters
in the sun.

But it is also the season when bears emerge and rip out car
doors and windows, poking their noses around for any trace
of food.

Since late March, there have been almost 200 bear
break-ins in Yosemite, a record pace in recent years that
has alarmed park staff who are warning visitors not to keep
any food in their cars.

There are about 500 black bears in Yosemite, and they not
only filch food, but anything that looks or smells like food -
suntan lotion, baby wipes, or a gum wrapper.

Even an oil can that looks like a soda will fall prey to the
marauding mammals.

Bears not only have an acute sense of smell that can
penetrate a sealed window, they are smart enough to
recognize a cooler or package of food.

Alain Labat of Sunnyvale, a friend of the drivers of the two
vans, said that they thought the food was safe because they
covered the crackers and chips with blankets and rolled up
the windows.

"They'll smell out Capri Sun packages" said Roy Freitas,
who works at the park garage, where they tape up about
four damaged car windows a day. "We've seen cars that
were virtually totaled."

The bear problem is so bad this year that rangers are
patrolling parking lots at night, visitors are constantly
warned during their stay and graphic photos are on display
around the valley showing the damage a bear can do within
a matter of seconds.

At Curry Village a sign reads: "$1,000 damage to a car.
Cause: a candy wrapper."

The problem appears even worse than last year when
bears broke into almost 1,000 cars, popping windows and
pulling out back seats to get into trunks, and causing
$580,000 in damage.

The reason for this year's rash of bear incidents is - what
else - El Nino.

This winter's snowpack was especially heavy, making the
high country inaccessible for the bears to forage for food,
said David Graber, senior scientist with the National Park

Even at lower elevations, he said, herbs, and green leafy
shoots that bears would munch this time of year are six to
eight weeks behind in their growth.

"This is an extreme year," Graber said. "But the dark side is
that the bears have gotten used to it."

Instead of munching berries that are now coming out, the
bears are going after chips, chocolate and other cheap
calories. Cheetos have become such a favorite that rangers
are finding orange mixed in the bears' droppings.

"'Bears really look at cars as just another berry patch,"
Graber said.

The park has had a long history of struggling to deal with
bears and careless visitors. One year, bears were
discovered jumping up and down on the tops of Dodge
Caravans, forcing the doors to pop open.

The prune seasons are in the spring when the bears emerge
from their semi-hibernation and in the fall when they scoop
up apples in the orchards next to Curry Village, one of the
most popular housing spots in the park.

But this year park rangers and staff are so worried that
then issued a plea on Wednesday for the public to keep
their food away from the bears.

"When they make a mistake it can cost the life of a bear,"
said Steve Thompson, a biologist at the park. Although
bears generally are not aggressive toward people, four
bears, including two cubs, had to be destroyed last year
because they were getting increasingly aggressive.