August 2009

Yosemite is an exciting place to work… just being here is exciting. The day-to-day work is often exciting, as well. But, then, often (but not always) in summer, chaos ensues as something big happens… and it’s not uncommon for several big things to happen simultaneously, as was the case today.

Multiple rockfalls fell just behind The Ahwawhnee, with rocks landing in the parking lot. The hotel was evacuated. I could clearly hear the rockfall from my office, a mile or so away. (More information…).

Meanwhile, a prescribed burn near Foresta unexpectedly jumped the fire lines. Yosemite has been doing prescribed burns for almost 40 years and I’m not sure how often this has happened before (or if it has ever happened before). Fire managers are careful, so it’ll be interesting to see what happened. In any case, the Big Oak Flat Road is closed, meaning travel between Crane Flat/Big Oak Flat/Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley isn’t possible (without a long detour). (You can find more information on the NPS website, although once this incident is over, this link won’t have information about this fire.)

Big Meadow (Foresta) Fire
Big Meadow (Foresta) Fire
Big Meadow (Foresta) fire later at night

Big Meadow (Foresta) fire later at night

It’s always vaguely entertaining when someone with a German accent asks about bears because they usually pronounce “bear” as “beer.” And that brings up this story.

Lots of people seem surprised (then very protective) when they hear that bears like beer. They really do, and they even have preferences! In 2004, a black bear in Washington got into some beer and drank all the Rainier beer, but only one of the Busch beers.


Bear Drinks 36 Beers, Passes Out

Associated Press
Thursday, August 19, 2004

BAKER LAKE, Wash. — Rain-eeeeer …. Bear? When state Fish and Wildlife agents recently found a black bear passed out on the lawn of Baker Lake Resort, there were some clues scattered nearby — dozens of empty cans of Rainier Beer.

Read the rest of the article…

On Wednesday morning in Old El Portal, a resident there was about to get into her car when she noticed a sleeping bear inside her car… with all the doors and windows still closed!

Blue 1 asleep in car

Blue 1 asleep in car (photo copyright Paul Pyle)

Sure enough, veteran bear Blue 1 (aka Blue 50, Orange 13) had opened up the car door, gone inside the car, then found himself trapped because the door closed behind him (the car was parked on an incline). He’s not the first Yosemite bear to open car doors. He’s an ever-present bear (usually found in Yosemite Valley… perhaps he was looking for a ride back from El Portal?) who seems to get into trash (but not usually into people’s campsites… he doesn’t like people at all). He’s been in dumpsters dozens of times (and been trapped in some of them). Lucky for him, we’ve found him in the dumpster each time he got stuck before the trash truck came. He also loves bear traps… he’s been trapped about 18 times in his 17 years. So, it’s clear he likes small metal enclosed spaces… but now he’s found the most comfortable one of them all!

Blue 1 peering out the window (photo by Paul Pyle)

Blue 1 peering out the window (photo copyright Paul Pyle)

So, it seems that once he found himself inside the car, he tried to get out, but wasn’t able to figure out the inside door latch (hence “smart(ish)”). So, he left a present and took a nap… just like he does when he’s caught in a bear trap.

Aftermath of Blue 1 in car. There was no food in the car. (Photo by Paul Pyle)

Aftermath of Blue 1 in car. There was no food in the car. (Photo copyright Paul Pyle)

A ranger responded and let him out by opening the door (and running)… the bear ran away, too.

What will this curious bear get into (and hopefully, out of) next?

The other night, I arrived at Housekeeping Camp, got out of my vehicle, and immediately heard all sorts of yelling. I could tell they were yelling at a bear. So, I ran over to the nearby unit and saw a crowd of about 30 people surrounding a bear who was eating out of a food locker. And, it wasn’t just any bear, but the Big Slow Bear. Despite several minutes of yelling on the part of these folks, the bear was ignoring them and eating. As soon as I came up, he took off and I chased him without any problem. While many people don’t really make that much noise when trying to scare a bear, this group was doing a decent job, but the bear didn’t care.

Before I was involved in the bear program, I used to hear that bears recognized the rangers. The theory was that bears would see the uniform and/or the hat. Many bear team members don’t wear ranger hats routinely, and don’t always wear the typical uniform (or any uniform at all, in certain cases). So, I don’t think bears necessarily recognize rangers and run more quickly when they see one. Of course, given their incomprehensibly good sense of smell, perhaps they smell the rangers that they’ve met before and, therefore, run more quickly. This may be true, but I still don’t completely buy it.

I remember another case, with a bear I spent many years working with–Orange 5. One evening, a bunch of people in a North Pines campsite couldn’t scare her away. (We were in Lower Pines, so we ran all the way back to our vehicle, drove over to North Pines, only to find, upon arrival, that she had swum back over to Lower Pines.) She had been hard to scare from a campsite there (despite lots of noise and lights), yet when we finally caught up to her in Lower Pines, she ran immediately when our flashlight’s beam hit her–as if she recognized that bright flashlights were associated with those annoying rangers.

So, perhaps bears do recognize certain things as being associated with more dominant people (i.e., rangers).

But, really, I think more than anything, bears can read our minds. They can tell when someone means, “GET OUT OF HERE, BEAR!!!” vs. “uh. um, bear? please leave? please?” I think it’s not just the volume of the yelling, but the confidence with which the yelling is yelled. (And yelling with words seems more effective than just shouting–maybe because more emotion is conveyed?) I’m not sure if both volume and confidence are required (maybe next time I run into this bear, I’ll try my normal yell at a low volume and see what happens).