Bear Management

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20 minutes, 47 seconds

Bear Management Biologist Kerry Gunther talks about the past, present, and future of bear management in Yellowstone National Park.

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Bear management in Yellowstone has changed since the early days of the National Park Service. In the past, bears ate human food at park garbage dumps and were regularly fed by park staff and visitors in campgrounds and along roads, resulting in injuries, deaths, and property damage. In 1970, the park adopted a new bear management plan focused on protecting and maintaining natural populations of grizzly and black bears while ensuring visitors could safely enjoy park resources. This approach remains in place today.


Our Goals

We protect and maintain natural populations of grizzly and black bears.

To do this, we preserve the processes affecting the genetic integrity, distribution, abundance, and behavior of grizzly and black bear populations within the park.

We educate visitors and employees about bears and how they can reduce bear-human conflicts.

By offering opportunities to learn about bear ecology and behavior, park visitors and employees can recognize the causes of bear-human conflicts and understand how they can prevent personal injuries, property damage, and bear removals.

We make all human food sources unavailable to bears.

Preventing bears’ access to human food and garbage is one of the most significant ways to reduce bear management problems and related public safety hazards in the park.

We alert visitors about the presence of bears and inherent dangers of recreating in bear country.

All of Yellowstone is bear country, from the park’s backcountry trails to the boardwalks around Old Faithful.

We provide opportunities for the public to understand, observe, and appreciate wild bears in their natural habitat.

Yellowstone is one of the best places in the world to see bears in their natural habitat, offering unique opportunities to learn and appreciate these wild animals.

a group of people installing a bear-proof storage box in a campsite
Yellowstone has installed bear-proof food storage boxes in 79% of the park’s 1,917 campsites with the goal to complete the installation of bear boxes in every park campsite in 2026.

Reducing Bear-Human Conflicts

The park takes many actions to prevent bear-human conflicts. The availability of human food and garbage to bears is a major potential cause of bear management problems in Yellowstone. The park aims to eliminate unnatural attractants to bears by using bear-resistant dumpsters and trash cans, monitoring developed areas for litter and food waste, scheduling garbage pickups to prevent overflow of trash cans, requiring bear-resistant food storage in campgrounds, and using bear-resistant fencing around sewage lagoons and garbage transfer stations.

Foraging bears can sometimes be seen close to park roadways, causing significant traffic jams when visitors slow down or park their vehicles on the road. Park staff manage these situations by directing traffic and ensuring visitors maintain a safe viewing distance.

Additionally, to promote human safety, park staff may remove large mammal carcasses from high-use areas, post temporary warnings and closures in areas with recent bear activity, and haze bears out of developed areas. Park staff report all bear sightings, bear signs (tracks, scats, etc.), and bear encounters, as well as bear activity reported by visitors, to the park’s Bear Management Office.

The park’s bear management philosophy continues to be highly successful in reducing bear-human conflicts and human-caused bear mortalities. Yellowstone is one of the few places in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where most bears die of old age and other natural causes rather than by human actions.


Bear Management Areas

To protect public safety and bear habitat in backcountry areas, Yellowstone wildlife biologists establish “bear management areas” in locations where grizzly bears are known to seasonally concentrate and where there is a high density of elk and bison carcasses. In these areas, certain recreational activities are limited at specific times of year to reduce encounters between bears and humans. Restrictions may include: area closures, trail closures, a minimum group size recommendation, day-use only, or no off-trail travel.



Bear Research

Research and monitoring are also integral parts of bear management. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST), formed by the Department of the Interior in 1973, is an interdisciplinary group of scientists and biologists responsible for long-term monitoring and research efforts on grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). IGBST members include representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department, and the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The main objectives of the team are to: (1) monitor the status and trend of the grizzly bear population in the GYE; and (2) understand the preferred habitat of bears and how human activities on the land affect their well-being.

View more bear research in Yellowstone at Science Publications and Reports.

a grizzly bear walking through a forest
A grizzly bear near Swan Lake Flat.

Grizzlies & the Endangered Species Act

The Yellowstone population of grizzly bears was designated, or listed, as threatened with extinction in 1975. Various agencies and stakeholder groups hold differing opinions about the status of the population and how it should be managed in the future.

In September 2018, a federal judge restored protections for grizzly bears within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem under the Endangered Species Act. This significant decision came after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed those protections, or “delisted” the bears, in July 2017. As always, hunting will remain prohibited inside Yellowstone National Park.

Grizzlies have made a remarkable recovery.

The growth and expansion of the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a remarkable conservation success story. The population has grown from 136 in 1975 to nearly 1,000 in 2022 using a population estimate model called Chao2. Scientists think the Yellowstone area population is recovered and may have reached its capacity for resident grizzlies in many areas of the ecosystem. To restore the area effectively, it's crucial to minimize conflicts between people and bears, as well as protect habitat for bears to move around and connect with other bear populations beyond the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

a park biologist holding a telemetry device to listen for bears
Listening for bears in the area during an Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team bear capture operation.

Management of bears will not change in the national parks.

The conservation and management of grizzly bears inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will not change significantly through this listing and delisting process. Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will continue to prevent bears from obtaining human foods, preserve wilderness to minimize human-caused mortalities and disturbances, and maintain our long-term monitoring program. We value grizzlies as a dominant species in the ecosystem—and one that offers amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. Millions of people visit the park with the intention of seeing bears and connecting with the wildness of nature. Wildlife watching also brings economic benefits worth tens of millions of dollars to the region. We are proud that Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will continue to be the heart of the grizzly population keeping this magnificent species in the wild.

Reducing conflicts with people is the key to grizzly conservation.

Employing best practices for safety in bear country doesn't just protect people, but the welfare of animals as well. When bears kill people or damage property, bears lose. To ensure grizzly bears’ safety, learn how to share the landscape with them responsibly.

We will work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, surrounding states, communities, and American Indian Tribes as the delisting conversation continues in the future.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the federal agency that administers the Endangered Species Act. They make all decisions about listing and delisting in consultation with other agencies, Tribes, states, and the public. Yellowstone will continue to be actively engaged with these partners and provide scientific data related to population estimates, habitat, genetics, and population connectivity.

Questions & Answers



More Information

a historic photo of several bears eating at a garbage dump site
History of Bear Management

Learn about the history of bear management in Yellowstone.

a grizzly bear walking through sagebrush

Two species of bears inhabit Yellowstone: grizzly and black bears.

two park rangers inspecting the wing of a small bird
Science Publications & Reports

View science publications and reports created by Yellowstone's Center for Resources on a variety of park topics.

a park ranger spraying bear spray

All of Yellowstone is bear country, from the backcountry to the boardwalks around Old Faithful. Learn how to protect yourself and bears.

two park rangers walking with bison seen in the background

Learn about the current natural and cultural resource issues that Yellowstone is managing for this and future generations.


Bear Management News

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    Last updated: March 28, 2024

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    PO Box 168
    Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



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