Keeping Bears Wild in Yosemite National Park


A Field Dispatch from Dakota McCoy, SCA Bear Management Intern

ABOVE: Blue 54, a 9-year-old male, after receiving his new GPS collar. (NPS photo by Katie Rodriguez)

The Dogwoods have bloomed and the Sierra’s snow caps are melting, which can only mean one thing in Yosemite National Park – summer! Waking up to the rumbling sound of Yosemite falls each morning is becoming routine. It’s hard to believe that I have been living here for almost three months now!

NOTE: Read Dakota’s 5 Tips for Safe Camping in Black Bear Country here.

Growing up on the east coast with national-park-advocates as parents, I spent my summers as a young girl visiting the west and all of the beauty national parks have to offer. After graduating college with a degree in Geography & Environmental Studies, I moved west, and haven’t looked back. This is my fourth summer season working in a national park, having spent my last three at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I often get asked how it feels to call a national park “home” for six months out of each year, and in truth, it’s as wondrous as it sounds. I go to work each day without feeling like I am working, doing something that I love and that I’m passionate about. After all, isn’t that what life is all about?

My daily routine in Yosemite Valley as a Bear Management Intern for SCA involves seeing a variety of animals. Mule deer feeding in the lush green meadows, a steller’s jay vocalizing just outside of my office window, and my day would not be complete without seeing one of Yosemite’s most iconic animals – a bear!

A very healthy, adult male after getting fit with a GPS collar for the first time. (NPS Photo by Andi Stewart)

Yosemite National Park has an estimated 300-500 bears. In Yosemite Valley alone, we have a total of eleven collared individuals. Out of those eleven individuals, eight of them have GPS (Global Positioning System) collars, which allow us to receive fixes on each bear every hour on the hour, allowing us to track their every move.

We are frequently asked what the purpose of a GPS collar is and why we use them. Collaring wildlife is crucial for management purposes, especially in a place like Yosemite Valley, which receives over four million visitors a year. The data that we receive from our eight GPS collared bears allows us to better manage each individual. We are able to gain information such as what their home ranges are, where they den in the wintertime, what meadows they frequently visit in search of food, and potentially what other bears they could be mating with!

Collecting measurements from one of our GPS collared individuals. (NPS Photo by Katie Rodriguez)

In Yosemite Valley, we mainly focus on managing the conflict between humans and wildlife. I spend my nights mitigating the human food available in campgrounds, picnic areas, and other places visitors frequent. I also spend a majority of my time educating people on the importance of storing their food properly to help keep our bears in Yosemite wild.

Bear paw! (NPS Photo by Katie Rodriguez)

Working for the Student Conservation Association this summer has allowed me to learn more than I could have ever imagined about the conservation and management that goes into protecting such an incredible species. Oh the beauty of spending my days in Yosemite working in the field of conservation, where John Muir, a founding father of conservation, spent most of his days. I now know why he too was in love with this breathtaking landscape.

“Bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters. A bear’s days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsings like ours and was poured from the same fountain…” -John Muir

One of our collared individuals after releasing him with his newly fitted GPS collar. Now, we can track his every move. (NPS Photo by Dakota McCoy)