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Survey Shows Visitors Would Support Higher Entrance Fees To See Yellowstone National Park Bears

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Yellowstone visitors would likely pay more in entrance fees to ensure they see bears during their visit/NPS, Jim Peaco

Bears in Yellowstone National Park and visitors who watch bears cost money, both in terms of the park's approach to bear management, and its approach to "bear jams" on the park's roads. And, interestingly, a study shows that a majority of Yellowstone visitors would pay as much $50 extra dollars in entrance fees to ensure the opportunity to see bears in the park.

Once upon a time, bleachers were actually set up in the park and garbage made available to bears to provide viewing opportunities. Of course, that practice went out long ago as wildlife managers recognized the wisdom of letting bears be bears and teaching humans not to feed bears. These days most bears are seen with binoculars...or along the Grand Loop Road that circles the park's interior. And when bears appear near those roads, vehicles stop to allow their occupants a closer look, and photograph, of the bruins.

But as the authors of The Economics of Bear Viewing (attached) point out, it costs money to allow such behavior by bears and humans.

Today, rather than capturing and relocating or hazing bears that forage in roadside meadows, Park management focuses on managing visitors viewing roadside bears, in an effort to promote education and appreciation for the Park's resident wildlife, as well as to allow the bears to continue using roadside habitat. This approach has been largely successful; while traffic jams on the Park's roads due to drivers stopping to view bears, referred to as "bear jams," have been on the rise, there have been no associated bear-inflicted human injuries. Nonetheless, allowing bears to use roadside habitat does not come without a price. The number of bear jams, as well as the total Park staff time required to manage bears, has grown exponentially over the years. In 2011, the year with the most recorded bear jams, Park staff spent 2,542 personnel hours managing visitors at 1,031 bear jams, providing traffic control and monitoring of visitor behavior to ensure safe viewing opportunities. On some days, there are such a large number of bear jams occurring simultaneously that there is not enough Park staff to respond to them all, leaving Park visitors interacting with grizzly and black bears unattended.

With those concerns in mind, the authors set out during the summer of 2009 to survey Yellowstone visitors. Of the 978 visitors contacted, 663 filled out and returned survey forms. Of those, 95 percent said they would pay an extra $1-$15 to enter the park if it would help ensure they'd see a bear during their visit. Eighty-five percent said they'd pay an extra $35, and 64 percent said they'd pay as much as an additional $50.

Conversely, if bears were not so readily visible in the park, the authors concluded, spending by park visitors would decrease by about $10 million a year and cost the local economy 155 jobs. Of course, they also note that the loss might not be so great if Yellowstone visitors substituted other wildlife viewing for bear viewing.


I think that raising the entry fees would serve to reduce the opportunity for those with lesser incomes to visit the park, most being Americans.  Many visitors are well to do foreigners and adding $50 to the cost would not be a burden to them.  In the winter, driving is prohibited and replaced with snow coaches.  Why not do the same in the summer and use busses.  One bus could eliminate 50 cars and could easily improve the bear jam situation. A charge of $2-3 should cover the expense.  This would also reduce the wear and tear on the roads and drivers pulling off the road to park.   

If you want to be guaranteed to see bears at Yellowstone, you can do so very easily (for an extra fee) at the Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstain.

This article left me confused.  I thought fees could not be used to pay for staff, let alone staff increases as implied by the survey? 


I appreciate jtatman's sensitivity to the burden of additional fees on many visitors, but how could busses keep to a schedule if they are stopping at random wildlife sightings?  Unless private vehicles are banned entirely at Yellowstone, which our politicans would never allow, it seems to me that more busses will only aggravate the traffic jams and block the view by others of both the wildlife and traffic.  If private vehicles were banned, what about visitors with pets, very young children, or bulky equipment such as bicycles or canoes?  Or just those stuck without a window seat on the bus? 

I would rather see entry quotas than be forced onto a canned tour with little opportunity for spontaneity.  Especially if those who can afford in-park lodging get separate access or are allowed to fly in, as at Denali. The NPS already has quotas for backcountry camping, hiking, river trips, guided tours, and probably many other activities.

Heaven forbid that visitors might be able to "interact [with wildlife] unattended."  I think Lee has it about right; if you want to be "guaranteed" bear viewing, go to a zoo.

I'm with Lee on this, too.  Go to the Grizzly Discovery Center.  And I'm jtatman1 about extra fees, too.  National parks shouldn't be priced out of regular folks' budgets.

I am totally open to fees for non US citizens. US citizens already pay for the parks with our tax dollars so fees should be very minimal or not imposed if at all possible on citizens. As far as paying to see bears it wouldn't surprise me if the NPS found a way to accomodate that eventually.

I pay exhorbitant fees to climb mtns outside of the US. (and inside the US if you consider Denali)  Mountains that locals are excluded from having to be charged.  Foreign nationals are very accustomed to paying to do these types of things.  I don't agree with fees for US citizens at all but this should be something that is to be considered since they are ramming fees down our throats for every little nickel and dime thing.

You want to pay to see bears?  Go to the zoo.  

Then you simply climb the wrong mountains.  Other than using gas to get the trailhead, and maybe buying some food for the trip, you can easily climb in the west, and mostly for free.

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