More than 400 bears hit by cars in Yosemite. Here’s what park is doing to save wildlife

More than 400 bears have been hit by vehicles in Yosemite National Park going back to 1995.

In an effort to keep more from being injured and killed, the California park announced Thursday that it has designated some areas along park roads where bears and other animals have been hit as new Wildlife Protection Zones.

Motorists will have to drive slower in these zones, and speed limits will be strictly enforced, park officials said.

Eleven bears have been hit by vehicles in Yosemite this year, as of Wednesday.

Signs warning drivers to slow down in these Wildlife Protection Zones will be posted by the Labor Day weekend.

The signs will be posted along sections of Big Oak Flat Road (continuation of Highway 120 in Yosemite), El Portal Road (continuation of Highway 140), Wawona Road (continuation of Highway 41) and Tioga Road (continuation of Highway 120 over the Sierra Nevada).

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This image shows one of Yosemite National Park’s newly-designated Wildlife Protection Zones and an associated sign motorists will see along roadways while driving through Wildlife Protection Zones in Yosemite. NPS PHOTO Special to The Bee

These zones will remain in effect until further notice. The park previously had “speeding kills bears” signs along roadways.

The bears in Yosemite are American black bears – although most are brown or even blond or reddish brown instead of black. Black bears eat mostly grasses, berries and acorns in the wild. There are no longer grizzly bears in California. The last grizzly in the state was shot and killed in the early 1920s.

“It’s not just bears that face the danger of being hit by a vehicle on roads within Yosemite National Park,” park officials said. “Owls, Pacific fishers, butterflies, rare amphibians like red-legged frogs and salamanders; and mammals like deer, foxes, and mountain lions are also often hit and killed on Yosemite’s roads.”

Drivers should stay alert, especially while driving during dawn and dusk when animals are more active, officials said, along with scanning roadsides for wildlife in front of your car.

Slowing down and following posted speed limits is one of the best ways to protect wildlife, Yosemite Superintendent Michael Reynolds said.

“These new Wildlife Protection Zones have been designated to help reduce the number of animals injured or killed in the park by automobiles,” Reynolds said. “We thank park visitors for helping us protect Yosemite’s bears and other wildlife.”

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Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.