The first year I worked year-round in Yosemite (1999), I was amazed by the number of bears hit by cars just in just in October (was it seven?) That’s the year I made my first “speeding kills bears” sign for the entrance stations to put up in their windows. I figured that while everyone recognizes the more obvious dangers of speeding (injuring themselves or another person), they needed a new or different reason to make them slow down in Yosemite.

Several years later, the park’s Bear Council got re-interested in the idea, and this is how the “Speeding Kills Bears” (or, “red-bear, dead-bear”) signs started showing up a few years ago.

Ever since then, the reported number of bears hit by cars has increased! I can think of only two explanations for this. One is that there are people out there that take perverse pleasure in hitting bears. While, I recognize this is possible, I think the more likely option is that more people report having hit a bear (even if it’s a minor hit) because they now perceive that the park wants to know (because of the ubiquitous signs). So, assuming that the increased reports of bear vs. car incidents doesn’t reflect an actual increase, it’s hard to know if these signs are effective or not.

bear.sign.car-webIn case you haven’t heard of these signs, they’re placed at or near a location where a bear has been hit by a car in that year. (Sometimes, early in the year, these are at places from the previous year or where bears are frequently seen on or near the road.) In the last several years, there are 10 to 20 reports of bears being hit by cars in Yosemite, although the number the last year or two is more like 20 (it’s more than 20 this year). The purpose of the signs is to remind people that Yosemite is a wildlife preserve and exists (in part) to preserve wildlife, but speeding is a good way to kill wildlife (not just bears… but dozens if not hundreds of deer per year, and numerous other animals).

Anyway, getting to the picture above. This bear in a Crane Flat meadow was orphaned in 2008 because its mother was hit by a car. We captured the cub and sent it to a rehab facility so that it could learn to live on its own after being returned to Yosemite the next year. (We’ve done this successfully with several other bears in the past decade.) The bear was doing fine, more or less, this spring and early summer, and many people saw the bear grazing in the meadow. Sadly, this bear was also hit and killed by a car earlier this year.

The sad irony is that nearly all the bears hit by cars are the ones we don’t see frequenting campgrounds and parking lots in search of food… they’re the truly wild ones.

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