Thinking about bears

Yosemite's Bears
Yosemite’s Bears is a great read – and not just because I know him. One of the articles that particularly caught my mind was Jeffrey’s musings about what a solution for managing bears would be. He talks about some of the things that they’ve tried – things that haven’t worked, like trying to condition bears to avoid human food, or putting up yet another bloody sign next to the ones that are already up, and things that have worked (to a degree), like improved food storage and ‘hazing’ bears with rubber bullets and loud noisemakers. It’s helping – but it’s hard to see and count the number of bears that remain wild that wouldn’t have otherwise, while dealing with the one bear that becomes dangerous, who has run out of other solutions, is a heart-breaker. Bringing us back to the questions: What else can we do? What is the solution?

Just as it’s in a bear’s nature to get the most calories for the least effort, it’s in a person’s nature to keep their food where it is convenient (not necessarily in a properly shut bear box) and to be lazy about walking the trash to the dumpster.

Idea 1. Make the lazy option OK. People may already be investigating different mechanisms that automatically lock and close without any additional effort from the people using them. Trouble is, bears seem to be shockingly good at figuring out how to open things, so this automated mechanism has to be complicated enough to foil clever bears, who have years to figure it out, but not so complicated as to confuse non-clever people who drove in late and just want to get to bed. Hm – now that I think of it, those could be overlapping sets. Tough problem.

Idea 2. Make the consequences more severe. The one solution/non-solution, that Jeffrey promises (I hope) to return to at some later date, is the option of issuing more/bigger citations for improper food storage. I hope he does, because his perspective would be interesting. I’m sure increasing the consequences for improper food storage isn’t a new idea for Jeffrey, or the others who have been working for years with Yosemite’s bears, but here are my thoughts anyway, since I’m thinking them.

It seems that the way to make that effective, is to do it in a way that makes it remarkable. Make the consequences for getting caught severe. Get a few headlines: “Yosemite NPS is cracking down on illegal food storage. $5000 fine for a forgotten sandwich…” Recruit travel writers like Tom Stienstra or Marek Warszawski to write articles. Issue a Press Release. Make the new policy big enough to make NEWS.

Not that you could EVER do this, but if we hazed people for leaving food out the same way we haze bears for getting close, people would take notice and start telling their friends. Nothing like a little hostile fire to encourage me to get that food into the locked bear box – pronto. Plus, it would be cathartic for rangers to open up with paintball guns on repeat offenders, wouldn’t it? (Joking! …kind of)

I don’t know. If there was an easy solution someone would have done it already, wouldn’t they? I’m sure there is no magic bullet. So, we creep up on a solution, one tracking collar, rubber bullet, sign, citation and heartbreaking bear story at a time. Thanks for the writing, Jeffrey. I hope we can figure it out.

[PS. Thanks to Loyd over at YosemiteBlog for pointing Jeffrey’s new site out to me.]