White 52 was a clever sow (female bear) who I had the pleasure (and, occasionally, displeasure) of meeting more times than I can remember. She was adept at getting human food, from campsites, cars, and buildings. We caught her in a trap a few years ago and figured… hmm, why not try to move her out of Yosemite Valley and see what happens?
So, we moved her out near Hetch Hetchy. At first, she headed up into Hetch Hetchy, then reversed direction and visited Camp Mather, just outside the park. Next we heard, she was lingering at a US Forest Service campground along Highway 108. We got a call saying that we should expect her ear tag and radio collar in the mail soon… because they were planning to trap and kill her for her behavior in the campground. She left the campground before she got trapped. More time went by, then one night that fall, we found her in a trap in Yosemite Valley! Earlier that year, she weighed in around 220 pounds (fairly large for a sow in Yosemite)… after her lengthy journey, she returned weighing 282 pounds! She traveled so far, but still managed to gain weight!
White 52 demonstrated almost all the reasons relocating bears doesn’t work:
- Relocated bears usually return to where they came from. (If someone dragged you out of your home and dropped you off 50 miles away, wouldn’t you try to get back home?) Most bears return more quickly than White 52 (usually in a matter of days or weeks). (There’s an old joke that some bears beat the wildlife truck back to the Valley.)
- Bears that don’t return to their home usually get in trouble somewhere else. This isn’t so good because, well, the bear’s behavior hasn’t changed. And food storage outside Yosemite isn’t as good as it is inside Yosemite. Not only that, but wildlife management agencies outside Yosemite tend to be less tolerant of bears, so bears spending time in developed areas are far more likely to be killed when outside Yosemite.
- Speaking of food storage not being as good outside the park, that probably contributed to her major weight gain (although, she returned in fall, a time when bears naturally gain weight).
- While we don’t know in this case, White 52 was a fairly dominant bear, so wherever she went, she may have displaced other bears. All the good bear habitat is taken and by adding a bear to an area already fully populated with bears, we’re messing with the bears that are already living there. For less dominant bears, putting them in areas populated with more dominant bears is an additional stressor as they scramble to find a place where they’re not so unwelcome.
- Undoubtedly, many relocated bears die because they’re unable to find food or are hit by cars as they try to return home.