What to Do If You See a Bear

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The biggest—and perhaps the most famous—of Yosemite’s native wildlife is the American black bear. Many visitors to the national park hope to see a bear; many also fear such an encounter, haunted by lurid visions of nighttime campsite raids and oversized foaming-at-the-mouth bruins. While the chances of a violent run-in with a black bear are very slim, you should know what to do if you see a bear in the park. Panicking is never a good idea—and a little knowledge of bear behavior, etiquette and safety can make incidents less likely in and out of the park. Keep in mind that black bears aren’t inherently bloodthirsty: They feed mostly on plant material (such as acorns, berries, and sedges) and insects, and are usually timid around people. Most trouble with bears comes when they’re habituated to human food—and, in the majority of cases, the blame in such situations lies with people, not bears. Bear Encounters It’s possible you’ll randomly encounter a black bear in the Yosemite backcountry, but you’re somewhat more likely to run into one in a developed area—where bears tend to be more accustomed to human presence. If a bear appears in your campsite or at a parking lot or trailhead, act aggressively and confidently: Wave your arms, shout at the animal, make yourself appear big and thoroughly human. The same goes if a bear directly approaches you anywhere in the park. Such a bear is acting opportunistically, whatever it’s up to: It may want to hustle you out of a scrap of food, for example. While rare, a bold and inquisitive black bear may also be testing you as a potential prey item. Turn aside the bear’s interest with forceful talking, shouting, and arm-waving. Your average black bear is unlikely to approach you, however. If you’re hiking somewhere in Yosemite and see a bear nearby, leave it alone and give it a healthy berth; the Park Service recommends staying 50 or more yards away. If the bear is on or near the trail, consider backtracking the way you came, or making a broad detour. Never run: Keep your movements deliberate and confident. Remember, a black bear habituated to human food—whether gained covertly in an improperly maintained, unoccupied campsite or through handouts—is potentially dangerous and unpredictable. In a worst-case scenario, such an animal might injure a person or be killed because of the threat it represents. Refraining from feeding bears directly or indirectly can keep the bears and your fellow humans safe. Whatever the nature of your encounter with a bear, always report it to a park ranger. Other Tips and Considerations Hiking and travelling in groups greatly minimizes your chance of a dangerous bear encounter. For one thing, a party of people makes more noise than an individual, which lessens the opportunity for a surprise run-in. Learn to recognize black-bear sign, such as tracks and scat. Avoid areas with fresh evidence of bear activity. Remember: Bear spray, such as is recommended in some national parks like Yellowstone, is not allowed in Yosemite. According to the National Park Service, it’s imperative to follow all food-storage regulations when visiting Yosemite. You can leave hidden-away food in a well-secured car—with the windows rolled completely up—during the day, but not overnight. Yosemite black bears are notorious for their vehicle break-ins. After dark, such food must be kept in the specialized food lockers available in campgrounds, most trailheads, and a number of other sites. (You may also leave food in an RV or a hard-sided trailer overnight.) Backpackers are required to store food in approved bear canisters. Enjoy Yourself! Black bears are magnificent members of the Yosemite ecosystem. Your visit to the park should never be clouded with irrational fear of these generally peaceable, intelligent, and awe-inspiring creatures. Make Your Yosemite Reservations Today If you’re planning to go hiking in Yosemite this year, consider making your reservations with Yosemite’s Scenic Wonders. We offer Yosemite reservations within the gates of the park. With one of our cozy cabins, condominiums, or homes, your Yosemite accommodations will be just minutes from your favorite Yosemite hikes. Give us a call at 1-888-YOSEMITE (1-888-967-3648) to learn about our rentals and to make your Yosemite reservations today. Yosemite National Park Blog Scenic Wonders’ Yosemite blog provides the latest news related to Yosemite National Park. By reading our blog, you’ll stay up to date on activities, accommodations, and more.

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