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Public Education Program Leads To Reduced Bear Incidents In Yosemite National Park


Not too many years ago, there was a study that identified the type of vehicles Yosemite National Park's bears most liked to break into for a meal. Now a new study says improved efforts to keep bears away from human foods has been a tremendous success in the park.

According to the study, the number of bear-human incidents has plummeted in recent years to about 130 per year (based on data from 2011-2013), down from the nearly 1,600 incidents that were investigated in 1998 alone.

"Yosemite National Park has a long history of human-bear interactions," notes Ranger Jeffrey Trust. "In fact, park rangers used to feed bears, setting up bleachers for visitor viewing back in the 1920s and 1930s, and there were still open dumps that attracted bears until 1971. Yosemite's bears became so habituated to human food sources that a night with three or four cars broken into was not uncommon."

In recent years, the park has strived to change the behavior, of both bears and humans. The park formed an inter-divisional team, the Bear Council, to begin a campaign to "Keep Yosemite's Bears Wild," Ranger Trust said in a release.

"The team conceived and produced educational outreach materials, devised a media strategy, increased patrols in park campgrounds, and put the responsibility clearly on visitors to store their food properly," he said. "The park also increased the availability of bear-proof food canister rentals and installed bear-proof food lockers at all park campgrounds and major trailheads."

The program also involves radio-tracking collars on bears, an extensive hazing program, and increased trash collection. The public education and outreach program has continued to be extensive. Park partners such as DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc. and Yosemite Conservancy have been instrumental in the program’s success.

As for that earlier study, the one on which vehicles Yosemite's bears targeted most often? Well, it turns out that fuel economy is just as important to black bears in Yosemite as it is with many visitors. And so when the bruins shop for fuel, more and more they tend to find themselves munching out in minivans, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Mammalogy.

Yes, while BMWs are sleek, Subarus utilitarian, and Tacoma's rugged, the best meals seem to show up time and again in minivans, according to the study.

For a seven-year period, the top choice of vehicle by black bears in Yosemite National Park has been the minivan. The bears seem to base this decision on “fuel efficiency”—that is, which vehicle offers the best opportunity of finding a meal. As a result, black bears have shown a strong preference for breaking into minivans over other types of vehicles.

The study, written by Stewart W. Breck, Nathan Lance, and Victoria Seher of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Wildlife Service, counted the number of vehicles broken into by make and model. From 2001 to 2007 minivans had the largest or second-largest number of incidents; when the number of break-ins was compared to the numbers of each type of vehicle visiting the park in 2004 – 2005, only minivans were broken into at a rate higher than expected based on their availability, noted the authors.


Minivans make sense since they generally carry kids and kids typically do a lot of eating in them. I would think it would be nearly impossible to get the smell of food out of a minivan.

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