Feeding tourists, approaching grizzly bear worries visitors | State & Regional | Panda Anku

An adult grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park can weigh 400 to 700 pounds and sprint short distances at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. They have large, bone-crushing jaws and teeth, and sharp claws as long as your fingers.

All of this begs the question: why would you want to lure someone closer for a photo?

But on May 18, Krisztina Gayler was driving between Norris and Mammoth in the park near Roaring Mountain when she hit a bear jam. For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a traffic jam that occurs when tourists try to view or photograph a grizzly or black bear or a group of bears. Cars can pull up in the middle of the street and block traffic, often with little room to pull onto the narrow shoulder of some park streets.

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Ahead of her, Gayler saw people in a vehicle throwing food at the grizzly and “reached out as far as they could to use their cellphones to take a close-up picture of the bear as it came within feet of them to eat.” thrown to eat,” she wrote in an email.

“I got very nervous and upset because, as we know, ‘Fed bear is dead bear,'” Gayler said, adding that she reported the incident to park officials.

“As soon as I saw it, I opened my door, stepped out and yelled very loudly, ‘Please don’t feed the bear!’ I repeated it at least five times. Suddenly I heard a sarcastic reply from a woman coming from that direction: ‘Oohh, we hear you, we hear you!’

“Also some of my friends … called for help to call a ranger the day before because some people were walking up to the same bear that was just a few feet away and she or he was bluffing attacking them,” Gayler added.

Seeing people walking past her car to get closer to the grizzly, Gayler warned them away. Luckily, the two men were committed.

“It was a terrible end to a wonderful day,” she wrote.

bear jam

Bear traffic jams, bison traffic jams, and moose traffic jams occur when tourists stop on the road to view or photograph wildlife. Bad ones can stretch a mile or more when traffic is backed up.

Eric Johnston, NPS


In 2019, the latest figures released by the National Park Service, there were 1,170 bear jams in Yellowstone. The report specifically called the animals “accustomed to humans,” meaning they had lost their natural fear of humans. Of the total number of bear jams, 333 were caused by grizzlies and 833 were attributed to black bears. Because most of Yellowstone’s tourism is concentrated in the summer months of June, July, and August, traffic jams occur in a relatively short period of time.

What particularly upset Gayler was that people threw food at the young grizzly bear. That’s how they get used to people.

“Never feed bears,” the park service warns on signs, in publications, at its visitor centers, and online. “Bears that feed on humans can lose their natural fear of humans and become dependent on human food. As a result, they can become aggressive towards humans and must be killed. The maximum penalty for feeding wildlife in the park is a $5,000 fine and up to a year in prison.”

However, Gayler said the visitors she saw approaching the bear appeared clueless, or at least unconcerned. During her visits to the park, she has also seen people approach moose, throw apples at bison to lure them closer, and coyotes and wolves approach.

“Many are acting like kids who have just been released into a huge room with brand new toys and can’t control themselves,” she wrote, adding that the variety of “runaway behavior” she’d seen was a long list created.

Emphasizing the danger to wildlife, about a month after Gayler’s bear-feeding incident, a woman was speared and thrown by a bison after getting too close to the animal in one of Yellowstone’s geyser basins.

According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “bison have injured more pedestrians in Yellowstone National Park … than any other animal since 1980.” The main reason is that despite park warning signs, bulletins, and website information, people have gotten too close .

Yellowstone grizzlies

The allure of photographing or getting close to a grizzly bear is too great for some national park visitors, who endanger their safety and the bears by getting too close.

Jim Peaco, NPS


This summer, Yellowstone’s wildlife may have a chance to be a little wilder as the park celebrates its 150th anniversary. Record-breaking floods on June 12-14 destroyed parts of the roads in the northern region and prevented tourists from visiting them. All five park entrances were closed on Monday after thousands of tourists were evacuated.

The northern closure extends from Norris north to Mammoth Hot Springs and the north entrance, and east from Mammoth through Tower-Roosevelt, Dunraven Pass, throughout the Lamar Valley and up Soda Butte Creek to the northeast entrance. It is uncertain how long the closure will last.

“Yellowstone continues major flood clearance efforts in the north while repairing damage and preparing to reopen in the south,” the park announced in a press release Friday.

Park officials said they hope what they are calling the southern loop — including areas such as Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Grant Village, Old Faithful, Madison Junction through to West Yellowstone and on to the Norris Geyser Basin — will open will be sometime this week.

Even when the Südschleife reopens, the park plans to limit visitation, possibly through timed entrances or a reservation system.

“(The National Park Service) is analyzing the viability of the South Loop and is working closely with partners to develop appropriate visitor management measures to safely accommodate visitors in this part of the park,” the agency said while working to determine which other parts The park can be reopened.

“Decisions will depend on the extent of the damage and the ability of the NPS to safely open additional sections later in the year,” the park service said.

Don't feed the bear

A screenshot from a camera shows tourists photographing and feeding a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park on May 18.

Krisztina Gayler courtesy photo


With the northern loop closed, wildlife in this region will have a quieter summer as tourist traffic may be non-existent. Still, the valet service encourages visitors visiting border communities, places like Gardiner, Silver Gate, and Cooke City that depend on tourism.

What impact the modal shift and decline in tourism will have on wildlife in two different regions of the park is unknown. The Northern Range is Yellowstone’s premier wolf viewing area and the Lamar Valley is an incredibly scenic place to see bison, elk, antelope, wolves and bears. The Lamar River, Soda Butte Creek and Slough Creek are also popular trout fishing spots.

Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly reflected on the impact of the flooding on the park’s wildlife in a press briefing Tuesday.

“In terms of wildlife, this spring — I’m going into my fourth summer here — has been the most spectacular wildlife viewing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I think I’ve seen between 15 and 18 grizzly bears in the last six weeks, a large number of bison, wolves.

“At the moment we don’t think the animals are badly affected [by the flood] except that at least for now there are no visitors watching them.

Gayler has returned to her home in Colorado, so she won’t be seeing Yellowstone’s wildlife for a while. However, she is concerned about some visitors’ disregard for the park’s wildlife.

“The bears do bear things, they are bears,” she said. “But people are ignorant.”

She encouraged anyone who sees illegal activity in the park to report the incident by calling 1-888-653-0009.

bear jam

Visitors to Yellowstone National Park stop to spot and photograph a bear along a road in May, creating bear jams. Getting too close to bears not only poses a threat to humans, but also habituates wildlife to human contact.

Krisztina Gayler courtesy photo


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