July 2010


In a follow-up of sorts to my last post, a visit to Yosemite resulted in me changing my college major to geology. Of course, after working in Yosemite for a few years, my interest in geology waned as my interest in bears grew. Yosemite can move your interests.

Anyway, for those who haven’t seen it, watch this nine-minute video about rockfalls in Yosemite (part of the Yosemite Nature Notes video podcast). It includes some amazing footage of the 2009 rockfall behind The Ahwahnee. (This footage is so fascinating, I’ve watched it probably a few dozen times—I guess my interest in geology hasn’t completely faded!)

If you liked that one, check out the other great episodes.

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One night in 1999, after my partner and I chased a bear out Upper Pines Campground, we walked back through the campsite the bear had run through.

The person staying in that campsite had just arrived and was astounded by what he had just seen. In his state of near-ecstasy, he proclaimed us heroes, then went on refer to the bear as “a beautiful piece of machinery.” He was truly in awe. After he calmed down, he told us that he had just arrived (after dark) and, having been drawn to Yosemite by the likes of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, was quite excited to see Yosemite Valley the next morning.

This man came to Yosemite in search of Half Dome and the waterfalls. Yet, I imagine that now, 11 years later, if you were to ask him what he remembers from his trip to Yosemite, it would not be Yosemite Falls or Half Dome—it would be the bear.

As the Yosemite Blog points out in point #6 of its tips on how to Make your Next Trip to Yosemite Better, those with an open mind can come to Yosemite and find something other than they what they were looking for. Has that been true for you?

Many nights working with bears are uneventful (relatively speaking); other nights are crazy busy. Friday night was one such night.

We decided to start off our night by visiting the picnic areas to educate people about bears and make sure no bears were around. Before we even had a chance to head that way, there were two bear calls at the same time–one in Curry Village and the other in Upper Pines Campground. The wildlife techs responded to Curry Village while we went over to Upper Pines, where we found a bear vigorously scratching himself (or… something) at the edge of the campground. We chased him off, and since there were two campground rangers working in Upper Pines, we decided to try again to visit the picnic areas.

Alas, we were passing Camp 4 when there was a call for a bear at Housekeeping Camp. The wildlife techs were still busy with the Curry Village bear, so we turned around and met Ryan, the lead wildlife tech, there (he’d been working in the office). We found the bear walking on the bike path along the road by Housekeeping Camp. We followed him for a short while, then he crossed the street (the people in the car were probably confused why we had them stopped for a good 10 seconds, but their question was answered when the bear lumbered across the road in front of them). He swam across the river, headed toward the day use parking (aka Camp 6).

So, we all drove over there and eventually found him skirting the parking lot, but he then went behind a fence and was in an area away from the parking lot. We went to the other end of the fence (few hundred yards away) to see if he’d continued in the direction he’d been traveling, and to make sure he didn’t enter the parking lot. We stayed there a few minutes and decided we weren’t going to see him, so we walked back into the parking lot, only to have a visitor say something about a bear in a car.

I interpreted the visitor to mean a bear had been in a car–surely the bear we were following couldn’t be in a car already. I walked up to the car… to find the same bear we’d been following inside the car, focused on a box of granola cereal. Ryan came over with his shotgun and the bear exited the car, to be hit with three rubber slugs as he ran toward the fence–and vanished.

Now, this is a solid wood fence with vertical slats. I tried to chase the bear once Ryan was done shooting, assuming there was a missing slat I could squeeze through, but the bear seemingly ran through an invisible gap in the fence. I was bewildered. After a minute of searching, we found a very small space beneath the fence that he had squeezed through.

After taking the report, talking to the owners of the car after they returned, etc., we had some quiet time. Then, one of the campground rangers reported seeing a bear in Upper Pines again, so we headed there since we were close by. We drove around, checking for food storage and bears, and we saw people in a campsite looking at what we assumed (correctly) was a bear. We got out and headed toward the bear, catching sight of it. I stopped at the small creek (which is maybe six or eight feet wide and about a foot deep) because there wasn’t an obvious crossing right there, but my partner inexplicably kept going through the creek. (I remember thinking to myself, “She’s just going to go splashing through, eh?”) Well, she underestimated the creek and took probably only one or two steps before falling face-first into the creek. After checking to see if she was ok (she started to get up and head toward the bear), I crossed the creek and yelled at the bear once before breaking down in laughter, joined by my partner. It was quite funny. Oh, and there was a campsite full of visitors who saw the whole thing. (I’m glad it wasn’t me…)

Before leaving Upper Pines, we saw the bear twice more.

Back at the office, another of my coworkers reported she’d had trouble in a campsite, with a camper who had already had his food impounded, didn’t have his food stored when she was there, and (to top it off) had two makeshift squirrel traps. And he thought each of these things was humorous. Having never encountered this situation before, she didn’t think to call a protection ranger, but tried to educate him to put his food away and dismantle the squirrel traps. So, we drove back over there to see how his campsite looked now (a few hours later), only to find it looked pretty good. The campground ranger had just a few minutes prior noticed the squirrel traps in the campsite and had dismantled them himself. (Topic for the next bear team briefing: call a protection ranger when you find an animal trap in a campsite!) Based on the current situation, I didn’t think a protection ranger would be likely to issue a citation, but I passed the information on to one of them so she could check out the campsite the next night and try yet again to educate him (or cite him, if appropriate).

I spent the next few hours in Housekeeping Camp, which, aside from a few noisy sites and a naked guy at his food locker, was uneventful. (Housekeeping Camp has hired some “camp hosts” this summer to focus on food storage and they’ve made a big difference.)

Meanwhile, the wildlife techs had spent a lot of time in Curry Village with at least two bears in the area (I could hear the frustration in Ryan’s voice every time he was on the radio). It was almost the end of our shifts, but there was still a little bit of time, so I went over there to look around a bit. I found a bear running through Curry Orchard–but not the bear I expected–there was another bear around! Wildlife saw the bear leave the parking area, so, they headed back to the office while I checked out a car with food in it at the trailhead parking (a protection ranger was in the process of getting it towed). It turned out that the owners of the car came back to their car when they saw it getting towed–they were camping illegally just outside the parking lot! They had just come back from a backpacking trip and were, apparently, too tired to go stay in the nearby backpackers’ camp or remove food from their car (there are bearproof food lockers about 100 feet from where they were parked). They received a citation.

The other ranger and I were headed back to our offices when Ryan called back into service, saying that he’d just gotten a report of a bear eating out of a locker in North Pines. Since we were very close, we turned around and went over there. I got there first, and found that the bear had left a good 30 minutes prior (visitors were too scared to come out of their tent until then). I called Ryan so he could cancel his response, but as he was turning around, he found a bear on top of a car in Curry Village. Meanwhile, the North Pines bear had spent 20 minutes eating in their campsite  and seemed to sample everything in their locker–it just looked like a big pile of trash. (Please, scare bears out of your campsites when visiting Yosemite!)

And, that was the end of the night (for us, anyway–hopefully not much happened after we went home…).