Glacier National Park Rangers are Attempting to Modify Bear Behavior to Protect Campers

Park rangers at Glacier National Park are limiting camping at the St. Mary Campground on the east side of the park because of the danger of bear attacks. Only vehicles with hard sides are currently allowed at the campground, because of the recent increase in bear activity in the area.

Campers using tents and soft-sided pop-ups are prohibited from using the campground. VW buses and pickup trucks with small canvas pop-ups are only allowed if the canvas is not exposed.

Berry patches are a strong draw for bears, since they like to feed on the berries which are found in large numbers by this campground. The park rangers are initiating negative reinforcement to try and modify the bear’s behavior, so they become less likely to approach humans.

Both black bears and grizzly bears roam the park, and bears are easily conditioned to human activity making them potentially very dangerous. The park requests that visitors report any bear sighting to a park ranger ASAP.

The website for Glacier National Park lists a number of precautions to limit the danger from the park’s bears. Most visitors know to keep food out of range, but they may not be aware of the precautions they need to take on the park’s trails.

Bears are easily surprised and frequently attack under such conditions, so park rangers discourage running on the trails. An increasing number of runners and joggers have been injured and killed by bears that they have surprised at close range.

Silent hiking is particularly dangerous for several reasons. A bear that has been constantly surprised by silent hikers may become used to humans and then pose an increased threat. Also, people have been charged and injured by bears that were startled by silent hikers.

The National Park Service strongly suggests constantly making noise when hiking. Bells are inadequate, and they recommend clapping hands loudly at regular intervals and calling out while hiking. Surprisingly, bear encounters can even be an issue on well-used trails, because some of the park’s most popular trails are surrounded by excellent bear habitat.

However, by taking the proper precautions, park visitors can protect themselves from bears and have an enjoyable experience in the wilderness in Montana.


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