As I start my term as NANPA president, I would like to thank Clay Bolt for his leadership and guidance over this past year. NANPA has become a better organization with Clay at the helm, and I hope to continue the work that he and all past presidents have accomplished.
I had the pleasure of being one of the leaders during the Yellowstone Regional Event this past May. A wonderful group of members attended, and Yellowstone provided many opportunities for us to make great photographs, especially those of both grizzlies and black bears.
Since that event, one thought keeps circulating in my mind about bear “jams” that occur whenever bears are seen (or, for that matter, when any wildlife is spotted). Our NANPA group got caught up in one of those jams.
A grizzly bear sow and cub wandered near the road searching for the most succulent plants for their dinner. Cars stopped in the middle of the road and people tried to get closer to photograph the bears. While the bears appeared calm and ignored the crowds, I wouldn’t have wanted to get between the female and her cub. Two rangers tried to control both the traffic and the crowds with some success, at first. But as the traffic and crowds grew, the rangers’ task became almost impossible.
So what’s the problem? A large number of the park visitors refused to obey the rangers when they were told to move away from the bears. Folks with phones and tablets scrambled to get images from as close as they could. The rangers exhibited great patience while trying to move the crowd away from the bears. Fortunately, law enforcement arrived with lights flashing and loud speakers blaring and made some progress getting the crowd under control.
We continued to see this behavior at several locations when bears were spotted, especially when the animals wandered near the road. At one location, we witnessed a ranger threatening to give a man a ticket when he refused to move away from the bears. One park employee said, “When we see these animals our endorphins kick-in, and we can’t control ourselves.”
Everyone in our NANPA group had long glass, so we were able to capture our images from a distance. When I asked one of the rangers why we were seeing so many bears so close to the road, he said one theory based on observations from some biologists is that females with cubs are using humans as shields to protect their cubs from males.
It comes at a cost to the bears. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), out of a total of 51 bear deaths in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem from January through September, 2016, 10 bears were killed by vehicles.
There will always be issues when humans and wildlife occupy the same space; accidents will occur. To me the bigger question is: are we loving our wildlife and national parks to death?