Yellowstone Forever

April 2, 2009

A Brief History of Bear Management in Yellowstone

Tourists and bears, 1910Early visitors to Yellowstone National Park developed an interest in the area’s wildlife—especially the bears. Garbage dumps that attracted bears quickly became a primary tourist attraction. At the height of the bear-feeding era, hundreds of people watched nightly as bears fed on garbage.  By 1900, Yellowstone National Park became well known as the place to see and interact with bears.

Over the following decades, the number of bear-human conflicts increased, along with subsequent nuisance bear-control actions. It became apparent that the Park’s bear management policies were not conducive to conservation or safety, but they didn’t change significantly until 1970.

The following is a brief timeline of bear management in Yellowstone National Park:

Feeding Bears

Bears at garbage dump, pre-19711889: Bears gathered at night to feed on garbage behind Park hotels.

1902: Official prohibition against hand-feeding bears.

1910: First incidents of bears seeking human food along Park roads.

1916: First confirmed bear-caused human fatality.

Early Management

1931: Park began keeping detailed records of bear-inflicted human injuries, property damage, and bear control actions.

1931-1969: average of 48 bear-inflicted human injuries and more than 100 incidents of property damage occurred annually in Yellowstone.

Changes in Management

Bear begging in YNP, undated photo1970: Yellowstone implemented a new bear management program to restore bears to subsistence on natural foods and to reduce property damage and human injuries.  The new program involved strictly enforced regulations prohibiting the feeding of bears and requiring proper storage of human food and garbage. In addition, all garbage cans in the Park were converted to a bear-proof design, and garbage dumps were closed within and adjacent to the Park.

Since these changes were implemented, there has been a significant reduction in bear-human conflicts:

  • Decrease in human injuries from 45 injuries per year in the 1960s to 1 injury per year in the 2000s.
  • Decrease in property damage claims from 219 per year in the 1960s to an average of 14 per year in the 2000s.
  • Decrease in the number of bears that must be killed or removed from the Park from 33 black bears and 4 grizzlies per year in the 1960s to an average of 0.4 black bear and 0.1 grizzly bear per year in the 2000s.
  • Decrease in bear relocations away from the front country from more than 100 black bears and 50 grizzlies per year in the 1960s to an average of 0.3 black bear and 0.3 grizzly bear per year in the 2000s.

Current Status

2007:  The Greater Yellowstone Area's grizzly bear population was removed from the threatened list under the Endangered Species Act; it was listed in 1975. 


Source: Yellowstone Resources & Issues 2008, NPS publication


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