Yosemite National Park officials announced last week that they will implement real-time GPS technology in a new project aimed at tracking the park’s black bear population. The project, made possible by a nearly $70,000 contribution from the Yosemite Conservancy for the purchase of GPS collars, will provide data on the movement of bears through the park and the bears’ use of wilderness areas.
Wildlife managers in Yosemite have been tracking the park’s bears in developed areas for more than a decade using radio telemetry. The movement of bears outside of these areas has been difficult to monitor with this technology, however, so data about their activities throughout the majority of the park remain a mystery.
Understanding the movement of bears in the park is key to the Yosemite’s bear management program, which includes visitor education, direct bear protection, bear canister rentals and the construction and installation of more than 2,000 bear-proof food storage lockers at trailheads, campsites, parking lots and other locations throughout the park. The commitment to this program by the National Park Service and the financial support of the Yosemite Conservancy during the last decade and a half have decreased bear damage to personal property inside the park by 98 percent—great news for bears and comforting statistics for front country and backcountry visitors alike.
GPS data will enhance these measures to protect visitors and bears while expanding understanding of the bear population itself. A key goal of the bear management program is to safeguard the health of the park’s natural bear population by ensuring that it remains as free from human influence as possible. Comprehensive mapping of bear movement throughout the park will help reduce human-bear incidents and decrease the likelihood that bears will become reliant on human food sources and thereby conditioned to break into vehicles or homes or seek out such food in backcountry areas.
Most backpackers want to see bears in the wild, and such sightings are a thrill that put an exclamation point on any backcountry trip. Better protection for bears based on thorough scientific data will ensure that these magnificent creatures remain wild in the wilderness for generations to come.
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