Bears are hungry when emerging from their winter den and are attracted to elk and bison that died during the winter. Carcasses are an important enough food source that bears will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.
With some folks still in the Park during the last days of winter — the 2010-2011 winter season is winding down, with all roads save the North Entrance/Cooke City route to be closed March 15 — NPS officials want to make sure everyone knows about the regulations requiring visitors to stay 100 yards from black and grizzly bears at all times. The best defense is to stay a safe distance from bears and use binoculars, a telescope, or telephoto lens to get a closer look.
Hikers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers are encouraged to travel in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail, and keep an eye out for bears. Bear pepper spray has proven to be a good last line of defense, if kept handy and used according to directions when the bear is within 30 to 40 feet.
Finally, this advice from Yellowstone officials: While firearms are allowed in the park, the discharge of a firearm is a violation of park regulations. Even the park’s law enforcement rangers who carry firearms on duty rely on pepper spray, rather than their weapons, as the most effective means to deal with a bear encounter.
Seasonal Bear Management Area closures are designed to reduce encounters with bears in areas that have a high density of elk and bison carcasses, and provide areas where bears can roam free from human disturbance. Prior to hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing in the park, visitors are encouraged to check the Park web site or at park visitor centers for dates and locations of bear closure areas.
Image courtesy of the National Park Service.