Let the bears be wild

I noticed the first acorn hit my house this morning. By the end of August they will be falling like rain and waking me up as they pelt the house. The acorns fall from oak trees and deer love to eat them. We regularly see large bucks grazing just outside our bathroom window. Bears eat acorns too, and often when the acorn harvest is plentiful, we see less bear-human interaction as the bears are gorging themselves in the shade of the oak trees, and not hanging out in campgrounds.

Speaking of bears, it has been an interesting season since I arrived in late June. A little yearling, Yellow 14, was hand-fed by a visitor. This unfortunate event set off a long series of human-bear interactions with the 29 pound black bear. Every day after the event we would find her in campgrounds and near human establishments looking for a handout. She was so cute that many people would approach and take pictures without trying to scare her away. She looked like a puppy dog with droopy eyes. Yellow 14 was slowly but surely becoming habituated to people, and it was really sad to see her not even attempting to eat natural food.

We decided to capture Yellow 14 so we could put a radio transmitter on her. I got to help on the “work-up” by taking temperatures, respiratory and heart rates, and by taking measurements of the little unit. I also got to release the bear by myself. She was so cute coming out of the trap. She was a little hesitant and stood at the back of the open trap looking up at the sky, at freedom. As soon as she jumped out she charged into the woods and started up a tree, her natural instinct for protection.

The whole event of being captured and sedated must have successfully scared Yellow 14 enough to realize that humans weren’t always going to provide candy bars and friendly smiles. Through our negative conditioning techniques and the capture, the yearling has not been around the Valley since. We do hear her occasionally on radio telemetry, but her signal is weak, meaning she is safely out in the forest doing natural bear things. This is very satisfying to our team as we were able to help this bear at such a young age, before it got too old to change its behavior.

The best part about this job is seeing bears in Yosemite doing natural things. Sometimes this means directing traffic and educating visitors on the appropriate distance to stay away from wild animals. With the recent apple harvest, we have been lucky enough to watch bears in apple trees, away from humans, happily eating to their heart’s contentment. I have also been lucky enough to see a sow and her cubs eating a deer carcass. This was exciting because getting near a sow and her cubs, especially when they are eating a large meal, can be dangerous. We left quietly and quickly and let the bears be wild.

I am having such an interesting summer and can’t wait to do more black bear work-ups!