Intern Perspective: Yosemite National Park Amidst the Flames

Clara Jessup is an SCA Bear Management Intern currently serving at Yosemite National Park. As destructive wildfires continue to blaze through many iconic landscapes in the west, we took some time to learn more about her experience at the park during the recent Washburn and Oak Fires.

SCA: Can you tell us about your internship? 

Clara: I started working with the Bear Management Team in Yosemite National Park at the end of May and am based out of Yosemite Valley. The Bear Management Team works to keep bears wild through using a variety of different preventative tactics. I work in the front and backcountry, both of which require educating the public about bears. Education is an important part of my job given the biggest threat to bears is bad human behavior. Making sure proper food storage regulations are being followed and that visitors view bears from at least 50 yards away helps keep bears wild and prevents them from becoming food conditioned and habituated. My daily responsibilities vary, but often consist of patrolling high human use areas for food storage violations, responding to bear sightings, breaking up bear jams, hazing bears away from developed areas, and educating the public.

SCA: What has been your favorite part of working at Yosemite National Park so far? 

Clara: My favorite part about working in Yosemite is having easy access to so many beautiful places. I feel privileged to be able to develop a relationship and sense of place with such a unique area. It’s fun to explore and find secluded areas of the park that are not frequently visited.           

Clara hiking.

SCA: Has your position or the location where you are been affected by the Washburn Fire and/or will there be any impact on your position?

Clara: Living in Yosemite has a unique set of hazards and there is a high likelihood that each year it will be impacted by wildfires. The Washburn fire is in Wawona, an area of the park that is south of the valley. I was outside of the park when the fire first began, but the valley was impacted with unhealthy air quality. I was supposed to work in the backcountry, but was assigned to frontcountry work instead due to the potential of being stuck in hazardous air quality. Similarly, when the Oak Fire started we experienced unhealthy and at times hazardous air quality, with ash frequently raining from the sky. While I have experienced schedule changes and some poor air quality, I feel lucky that I have not been more impacted by the fires. Other members of the community have been heavily impacted as many people have had to evacuate or lost their homes, which is absolutely devastating.

View of the Oak Fire.

SCA: What does it mean to you to serve at an iconic place like Yosemite during extreme events like widlfires?

Clara: Working in a park that is often threatened by wildfires reminds me of the impermanence of our surroundings and the uncertainty that the future holds. When wildfires are human-caused, I think about how small actions can have devastating impacts on the environment and all that exists within it. It reminds me of how important it is to be a steward of the land and of wildlife. Yosemite is such a highly visited and loved park that it unfortunately can fall victim to overuse and mistreatment. I think about this when speaking with the public and do my best to evoke a sense of responsibility and agency to those I talk with because in many ways the park’s health lies in the hands of visitors.