New program to track Yosemite bears in real time

For the first time, wildlife managers in Yosemite National Park will map and monitor the movement of the park’s black bears in real time to help understand the animals’ activities beyond Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Conservancy donors are contributing nearly $70,000 to purchase GPS collars to track the bears.

The project will provide information about how bears are using the majority of the park’s wild habitat. Wildlife managers have tracked the movements of black bears in developed areas in Yosemite for more than a decade using radio telemetry. But once a bear leaves a developed area, its movements are difficult to track.

“This project will expand the park’s understanding of Yosemite’s black bear population and help to keep bears wild and visitors safe,” said Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher. “Yosemite Conservancy funding helps us to achieve our bear management goals of keeping healthy natural populations of black bears as independent from human influence as possible.” Neubacher added that study results would be used as part of interpretive programs to teach visitors about bears’ behavior.

The full breadth of the park’s bear management programs have reduced bear incidents involving damage to personal property by 95 percent since 1998, according to the National Park Service. Since 1989, Yosemite Conservancy donors have contributed $2.1 million to support bear protection and education programs, such as the construction and installation of more than 2,000 bear-proof food storage lockers throughout the park.

The organization also rents bear-proof food canisters used by backpackers and supports educational programs such as the Junior Ranger program, an interactive program that helps children develop an appreciation for protecting natural resources by teaching them about park wildlife, habitat and history. The National Park Service’s “Red Bear-Dead Bear” signs mark sites where bears have been hit by vehicles to encourage drivers to slow down.

Yosemite Conservancy President Mike Tollefson said the GPS technology to be used in the bear program already has been applied successfully in an effort to re-establish and monitor bighorn sheep in Yosemite.