Grissly Bear Management Concepts Grizzly Bear Management









Recreating with Bears

and Other User Concerns



One of the main concerns that people have when recreating in grizzly country is a human-bear encounter. To most people that usually means how bears might affect or disrupt a camping or backcountry experience. How to be safe and smart in grizzly territory is an important aspect of ones outdoor experience but it is not the only concern. What fewer people may consider is how are actions can affect grizzly behavior and make more difficult their struggle to survive.


Certainly, there can be a lot of excitement when recreating in areas inhabited by grizzlies. For many, seeing a grizzly in the wild provides the definition of wilderness. Some people will say that for natural lands to be truly wild and impart their full aesthetic value they must contain the grizzly - and other animals that naturally inhabit an area.



Impacts of recreation on Grizzlies

There’s growing interest these days with the negative impacts of human activities on the Grizzly. Of significant concern over the last few decades is the drastic increase in backpacking and backcountry camping in Yellowstone. Craighead (1980) recommended delineation of critical bear habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem and restriction of certain types of human activity within these areas. In 1983 this led to the implementation of a bear management program that restricted recreational use in areas with seasonal concentrations of grizzly bears. Two of the better known goals for these type restrictions are to "minimize bear/human interactions that may lead to habituation of bears to people" and "to reduce the risk of human injury in areas with a high level of bear activity". A third goal - and one that fewer recreationists are likely aware of - was to prevent human caused displacement of bears from prime food sources. For instance, it has been reported that following a disturbance by humans, bears moved a minimum of 3.2 km before stopping and remaining in an area (Schleyer 1983). This displacement of bears from important foraging areas could then result in an overall reduction of habitat effectiveness and carrying capacity.


A newly discovered human-recreational impact involves Rock climbing. This activity often disrupts grizzlies foraging on aggregations of adult army cutworm moths. Studies have shown when bears detected climbers, they subsequently spent 53% less time foraging on moths, 52% more time moving within the foraging area, and 23% more time behaving aggressively, compared to when they were not disturbed. It’s estimated that grizzly bears could consume approximately 40,000 moths/day or 1,700 moths/hour. At 0.44 kcal/moth, disruption of moth feeding cost bears approximately 12 kcal/minute in addition to the energy expended in evasive maneuvers and defensive behaviors (White; Kendall; Picton 1999).



Staying safe in the outdoors



Exhibiting smart and safe behavior in the wild outdoors is a key ingredient to protect wildlife and oneself. A necessary component for the safety of visitors in Yellowstone and other grizzly occupied areas is education. It’s absolutely amazing to hear some of the stories of human behavior in our National parks from the lack of information (Loftus & Danyliw, 1997). An angler in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, for example, once put a freshly caught salmon inside his vest, thinking the park’s bears wouldn’t SEE it. To better understand recent bear attacks and the lessons learned check the link "Mark of the Grizzly."

Even more important is for those traveling the backcountry to prepare for the possibility of Grizzly encounters. Since Grizzly bears have been nearly eradicated in this country many otherwise experienced hikers from other parts of the country (or the world) are likely not familiar with the additional elements involved in recreating where the Grizzly is still extant. To help educate yourself check out the link "Hiking in bear country."


Winter recreation


In the more distant past, winters had been the quiet season in National Parks -- but not for the past few decades. On the weekends it has not been uncommon to see a 1000 or more snowmobiles at Old Faithful. Each weekend the pollution created has exceeded all the auto traffic for a given year and every winter snowmobiles have produced enough pollution to equal 60 years of Yellowstone auto traffic. The good news is that a new plan announced this winter (2000-2001) by the park service states that much of this activity will be phased out over the next three years in favor of multi-passenger snowcoaches. Click here to download further info on this plan.


Until recently the only methods used to deal with the excessive snowmobile pollution problem had been to enclose ranger booths and pipe in fresh air for human workers to relieve dizziness, headaches, throat irritation and nausea (Coleman, 1999).

For the Grizzly and other wildlife such solutions were not available. Air pollution along snowmobile trails-- which commonly run along rivers and streams – released nitrogen, sulfate and hydrocarbon compounds and increased the acidity of the snow. "This massive liberation of atmospheric pollutants is connected to a very important increase in acidity … 100 times higher than usual in surface water" says a 1990 report (Earth Island Journal - Coleman ’99). Snowmobile recreation also created groomed trails, which may still be a problem with the new upcoming snowcoaches. Groomed trails (as with roads) can change natural predator/prey relationships. For instance, bison, elk and deer can use the groomed trails to find better forage, save energy and avoid predators. This is at the expense of the Grizzly (as well as lynx and wolf) which relies on winter-killed ungulates as one of their main food sources.