Footage from last week shows swaths of “tourons” cornering a Yellowstone black bear against a hillside as they snap photos and block traffic. It is, in a word, disappointing.
As a bear-obsessed naturalist, I do understand the innate pull these wonderful mammals have. Who doesn’t love bears? But bears are bears. These are wild, unpredictable predators. Even if they weren’t, who wants this many people crowding around them?
In this instance, the black bear is attempting to graze before she becomes cornered up against a steep hillside. A crowd of Yellowstone visitors take photos on one side. Vehicles stopped to do the same are in all other directions. Finally fed up with the commotion, she’s forced to stop her grazing and take for the forest up the incline.
Park visitor Audrey Christine sent the footage into Tourons of Yellowstone a few days back. “Too close tourons & cars stopped in the middle of the road blocking traffic,” Christine cites:
This problem isn’t unique to Yellowstone, either. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the beautiful Cades Cove loop road travels through prime black bear habitat. Sightings are common, which means these sort of “bear jams” are, too.
While tracking and photographing black bears in Cades Cove last month, helping volunteers and rangers dissolve bear jams on the main loop became an almost hourly ordeal. It’s wonderful that our national parks give us all the opportunity to view such amazing wildlife. But in these high-traffic parks, there are obvious downsides, too.
Yellowstone has a traffic problem
Great Smokey Mountains sees anywhere from 12 to 14 million visitors per year. That’s a lot of people passing through thick bear country. Yellowstone typically sees around 3 to 4 million. It’s a fraction of the visitation, but limited roads in America’s first national park makes traffic a big obstacle during the busy season.
Sadly, the park’s famous wildlife are hit by vehicles often. Bison, especially, suffer from this issue. Abiding by park wildlife regulations keeps us safe, but it also helps keep wildlife wild. The less comfortable and habituated bears and bison are to vehicles and people, the greater their chances of survival – by a significant margine.
When in Yellowstone National Park, never approach or feed wildlife. All animals in the park are wild and unpredictable. No matter how calm they appear to be, there is no way to predict a “safe” encounter. Instead, the safest (and often best) view of wildlife is from inside your vehicle.
When traveling on foot, park regulations require visitors to stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all other animals, including bison and elk.
For more on park safety, see our Yellowstone National Park Safety Breakdown next.
For more on the remarkable bears of the park, see our Yellowstone National Park Wildlife Breakdown.