During its first century, Yellowstone National Park was known as the place to see and interact with bears. Hundreds of people gathered nightly to watch bears feed on garbage in the park’s dumps. Enthusiastic visitors fed bears along the roads and behaved recklessly to take photographs.
Beginning in 1931, park managers recorded an average of 48 bear-inflicted human injuries and more than 100 incidents of property damage each year in Yellowstone. In 1960, the park implemented a bear management program directed primarily at black bears and designed to reduce the number of bear-caused human injuries and property damages and to re-establish bears in a natural state. The plan included expanding visitor education about bear behavior and the proper way to store food and other bear attractants; installing bear-proof garbage cans; strictly prohibiting feeding of bears; and removing potentially dangerous bears, habituated bears, and bears that damaged property in search of food. The open-pit garbage dumps remained open.
After 10 years, the number of bear-caused human injuries decreased slightly to an average of 45 each year. In 1970, Yellowstone initiated a more intensive program that included eliminating open-pit garbage dumps inside the park with the intention of returning bears to a natural diet of plant and animal foods.
Bear researchers and brothers John and Frank Craighead predicted bears would range more widely and come into more conflict with humans as the bears were weaned off of human food. This prediction was realized in the first years of the revised management program: an annual average of 38 grizzly bears and 23 black bears were moved to backcountry areas, and an annual average of 12 grizzly bears and 6 black bears were removed from the population. However, the number of bear-human conflicts decreased to an annual average of 10 each year after 1972. Bear removals also decreased.
In 1983, the park implemented a new grizzly bear management program that emphasized habitat protection in backcountry areas. The park established “bear management areas” that restricted recreational use where grizzly bears were known to concentrate. The goals were to minimize bear–human interactions that might lead to habituation of bears to people, to prevent human-caused displacement of bears from prime food sources, and to decrease the risk of bear-caused human injury in areas with high levels of bear activity. This program continues today.
- Late 1880s: Bears begin gathering at night to feed on garbage behind park hotels.
- 1910: First incidents of bears seeking human food along park roads.
- 1916: First confirmed bear-caused human fatality.
- 1931: Park begins keeping detailed records of bear-inflicted human injuries, property damage, and bear control actions.
- 1931–1969: average of 48 bear-inflicted human injuries and more than 100 incidents of property damage occur annually.
Changes in Management in 1970
- 1970: Yellowstone implements a new bear management program to restore bears to a diet of natural foods and to reduce property damage and human injuries.
- Strictly enforcing regulations prohibiting the feeding of bears and requiring proper storage of human food and garbage.
- All garbage cans in the park convert to a bear-proof design.
- Garbage dumps close within and adjacent to the park.
- Decrease in human injuries from 45 injuries per year in the 1960s to 1 injury per year in the 2000s.
- Decrease in property damage claims from 219 per year in the 1960s to an average of 15 per year in the 2000s.
- Decrease in number of bears that must be killed or removed from the park from 33 black bears and 4 grizzlies per year in the 1960s to an average of 0.34 black bear and 0.2 grizzly bear per year in the 2000s.
- Decrease in bear relocations away from humans from more than 100 black bears and 50 grizzlies per year in the 1960s to an average of 0.4 black bear and 0.6 grizzly bear per year in the 2000s.
MORE BEAR FACTS TO KNOW
- 7 ways to reduce a bear attack
- How do you tell a black bear from a grizzly bear?
- What is difference between defensive and predatory bear attack?
- What do bears eat?
- grizzly bear facts
- grizzly bear ecology
- black bear facts
- black bear ecology
- bear management areas in Yellowstone ecosystem
- grizzly bears and the Endangered Species Act
- bear-inflicted fatalities and injuries
From the National Park Service