As many as 500 American black bears live in Yosemite National Park. Though they hibernate through the winter, Yosemite’s bears spend the warmer months wandering all over the park in search of food — including in developed areas, such as popular Valley campgrounds. In addition to providing funding for thousands of bear-proof food lockers and canisters, Conservancy donors have supported multiple projects to help Yosemite’s wildlife managers track, learn about and protect these fascinating creatures.
A 2012 project expanded the park’s efforts to track bears using radio collars and transmitters. Two years later, a donor-supported grant allowed the park to start using an even more effective bear-management technology: GPS collars. The new collars allow rangers to track bears in real time — and far beyond the Valley. That expanded, immediate monitoring system is particularly important in a park marked by rugged terrain and vast acres of designated Wilderness.
Using data from the GPS collars, wildlife managers have been able to understand bears’ movements not only in and around popular campground areas, where the animals are typically active in the summer, but also as they move deeper into the wilderness in the autumn in search of extra pre-hibernation calories. In 2016, another Conservancy donor-funded project is upgrading the park’s tracking technology even further to ensure that wildlife managers have access to the most effective tools available to study and protect Yosemite’s bears.
Recent data indicate that these focused efforts to keep Yosemite’s bears wild are paying off. In 2015, park officials reported that bear-related incidents had dropped by 99% since they peaked in 1998, and were at their lowest level since 1975, the year that Yosemite initiated its bear management program.