YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — It wasn’t that long ago that a trip to see Yosemite’s spectacular granite cliffs and splendid waterfalls was a descent into bear mayhem.
“You’d drive your car to the park and then it got destroyed because you left a candy bar in the door,” said Mike Tollefson, a former Yosemite superintendent.
A black bear and her cub look for food in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Aug. 27, 2014. The park has had a huge problem with bears breaking into cars and causing other mayhem and has embarked on an ambitious campaign to train campers in bear awareness. They are also training the bears, using GPS collars and other techniques to provide negative reinforcement. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group) ( Patrick Tehan )
But today, in one of Yosemite’s most remarkable wildlife success stories, the bears are behaving better. Reports of bears damaging property or injuring people in the park have fallen 92 percent — from 1,584 in 1998 to 120 last year. And the number of bears that park officials have had to kill because they pose safety problems has fallen from about 10 a year in the 1990s to one or two a year now.
Biologists say the long, slow turnaround came from an unlikely strategy — training the bears but, more importantly, training people.