Spotting a black bear in the wild can be a thrilling experience. But coming across these mighty creatures can also have fatal consequences as vehicle versus bear collisions are now one of the leading causes of black bear mortality in Yosemite National Park.
Since 1995, more than 400 vehicle-bear collisions have occurred along roadways in the park. This year, 27 bears were hit by cars in Yosemite. That’s about as many as were hit last year, but significantly less than the nearly 40 that were hit in 2015.
Park officials say they have taken steps to help reduce the number of bear-vehicle collisions, especially as the number of visitors to Yosemite grows. Five million people visited the park last year.
Park ranger Jamie Richards said the park has worked to raise visitor awareness about the problem by reminding people to slow down and obey posted speed limits. Visitors are also encouraged to store their food in a bear-proof locker or canister to discourage the bears from scavenging for human food.
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Rangers also post highly visible signs that say “Speeding Kills Bears” in areas where a bear has been struck as part of its “Red Bear Dead Bear” project.
“Even one bear hit by a car, is one too many,” Richards said. “And it’s not just bears that visitors should be careful of, it’s also deer, bobcats and other animals whose natural migration path may cause them to cross a road. The most important thing is to follow the speed limit.”
Richards said that unfortunately in many cases when a bear has been struck, the animal dies.
A website, www.keepbearswild.org, provides tips on how to help protect Yosemite’s bears while also checking on hotspots where collisions have occurred.
In 2016, at least eight bears where struck by cars along Wawona Road, just inside the Yosemite boundaries.
In February, three black bear cubs that were orphaned last summer were returned to Yosemite, where they have been tucked into a den for the duration of their winter hibernation.
Park wildlife staff found the cubs hours after their mother was hit by a car and killed in Tuolumne Meadows on July 4.