Being Bear Aware: It’s YOUR responsibility

With record visitation and beautiful weather, this summer has been quite busy in Grand Teton National Park. Several lakes at the base of the mountains are some of the park’s most popular destinations due to their easy access to swimming, boating, and scenic vistas.

The influx of people spending time at these lakes has not come without consequence for Grand Teton’s incredible wildlife. Earlier this summer, a black bear was euthanized after obtaining human food in a car trunk at Jenny Lake Lodge. Its aggressive behavior undoubtedly evolved slowly in response to many previous human food rewards. On August 19th, park biologists captured another female black bear that obtained human food on seventeen documented occasions between 2012 and 2014. As an alternative to euthanizing this bear, she and her cub were sent to a zoo. Both events signal the failure of humans, not bears.

Jerry Herman_cub
Photo by Jerry Herman

Failure of park visitors—including locals—to properly secure food and other bear attractants while recreating at String and Leigh lakes will continue to corrupt Grand Teton bears, whose only motivation is to store fat for winter and survive. Bears that learn to seek human food often lose their fear of people and become dangerous, taking this behavior wherever they encounter humans. This leaves park managers few options other than removal. One potential resolution of the problem at String Lake could force park officials to ban food at the popular destination. It is now more important than ever for ALL park visitors to review bear safety protocols and to be steadfast in their compliance with food storage regulations while recreating in bear country.

Bear Safety – Proper Food Storage:

• DO NOT leave backpacks, coolers, or anything with an odor unattended for ANY length of time. Your food should always be within arm’s reach or properly stored.

• If approached by a bear while eating, put food away and retreat to a safe distance. Never abandon food because of an approaching bear. Always take the food with you.

• When not in immediate use, store all items with an odor in a bear-resistant food storage locker or in a hard-sided vehicle with doors locked and windows closed day and night. Do not leave coolers in the back of a truck or strapped to a rack. Only have the items out that you are actually using, and restore them when finished.

• Properly store:

• Food and drinks (including water)

• Coolers and food containers (empty or full)

• Stoves and grills

• Cookware (clean or dirty)

• Toiletries including bug repellent and sunscreen

• Pet food and bowls

• Garbage in a bear-resistant dumpster

• Be Bear Aware! It all smells to a bear, please take care and lock it up! If in doubt, store it.

In addition to funding research and conservation programs to preserve Grand Teton’s wildlife and natural resources, Grand Teton National Park Foundation is committed to educating the public about how they can help protect Grand Teton’s magnificent wildlife for the enjoyment of future generations.

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