December 12, 2012

Education, not restrictions the conclusion of bear attacks review in YNP

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park
Grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park

After a recent review of grizzly bear attacks, Yellowstone National Park managers have decided against establishing new backcountry use restrictions in the Hayden Valley. The review was in response to two fatal bear attacks within the park in summer 2011, the Yellowstone Gate reported.

“When we have two of our park guests killed in any way, management takes a closer look to see if we can improve safety for our visiting public,” biologist Kerry Gunther said in October during the Biennial Scientific Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The goal of the study was to help Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk and other park managers decide if special restrictions should be placed on visitor use in the Hayden Valley, where 23 percent of the park’s bear-related injuries since 1970 have occurred.

A big part of that message is likely to focus on recommending that day hikers carry bear spray, which Gunther said has been “94 percent effective in stopping aggressive behavior in bears when deployed” in incidents across North America.

In 79 percent of the Yellowstone cases Gunther reviewed, hikers were not carrying bear spray. Too many hikers don’t keep their bear spray where they can easily reach and use it, Gunther said. Only 67 percent of those carrying bear spray in Yellowstone were able to successfully use it during bear incidents over the last 42 years.

Another safety measure is to hike in groups of three or more, he said. Since 1970, 93 percent of grizzly-caused human injuries came when visitors were hiking alone or with only one other person.

From 1991-2011, there have been 1,541 reported human-grizzly encounters in the Yellowstone backcountry, with less than 1 percent of those incidents resulting in an attack.

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