Friday, July 1, 2011

Caution: Bear Crossing

Looking down at my watch the other day I found that it was 5pm, and for the first time since the winter I did not have a mountain of work on my desk. I has just completed the last project on my neatly formed daily "to do" list and although I knew there were things to do tomorrow, I was done for the day. Lately, I can usually be found diligently working in my office till 6 or 7pm and I thought about diving into the next day's workload, but as I glanced out my window I saw the sun still brightly shining outside. There had been over one week of sunny skies and beautiful temperatures and there was no denying that summer had arrived. Suddenly a big smile came over my face and I said to myself "I am going home!"

I quickly gathered my things, put on my bike helmet and soon I flying down the road with the wind whipping me in my face. I passed the post office, the restuarant, the lodge, and just as I was making the home stretch I looked up to see an indistinct brown blob emerging from the trees just about 100 yards away. "Bison?" I thought. "NO, BEAR!"

There he was, a beautiful chocolate brown Grizzly Bear weighing upwards of 500lbs. As he crossed the street there was no denying the classic hump on the neck that distinguishes the Grizzly from the Black bear. Cars and RV's all came to a halting stop as this magnificent animal crossed over into the thick of the Lodgepole pine forest. Regardless of his impressive size he disappeared the minute he entered the trees, blending in with the brownish hues of the forest. I sat there in awe, and when the awe passed I sat there thinking "What do I do now?" After all I had no idea how far into the woods he had gone...the same woods that I needed to pass on my bicycle in order to get home. 

I glanced around trying to find a new route and quickly found my solution. It turns out my husband Shane was sitting in his truck at the next corner. With radio in hand he was calling in the bear sighting to the other staff. I rode over to Shane, threw my bicycle in the back of his truck and began assisting him with bear management. 

Within a minute we were joined by 2 Law Enforcement Rangers and 2 Resource Management Volunteers. And that's when the fun truly began. Shane indicated that the bear had walked down the power line road and we all knew where this led- straight into housing. Jumping in our vehicles, we drove over to housing where the power lines meet the back of the Quadraplex unit. Just as we arrived, we found Ranger Darlene with her radio in hand. She had been peacefully reading on her porch when she looked up to find the bear trotting down the road just 50 yards away from her deck. 

But the bear paid little attention to the team of six that had now grown to eight! Four of us were technically off duty but when a bear travels through your housing area it's amazing how many people want to be on duty!

We all jumped back into our vehicles with the knowledge that the bear, who continued to follow the power line road, was headed right for the employee RV housing area. Within seconds a stampede of Ranger's ran into Ranger Roy's RV lot.  With the parade of rangers, the bear went down into the ravene which lies behind the RV area. Now although we would never want to disturb a bear's behavior in a wild setting, please keep in mind that when it's in our housing area all bet's are called off! In fact, we regularly haze bears out of housing areas, campgrounds etc., as we do not want them to feel comfortable in these areas. The ultimate goal is to prevent any bad human/bear interactions.

As the bear meandered down the ravine we once again we lost sight of him. Our super-team split up. Two rangers headed towards the campground, two more back to the road and four of us stayed in Ranger Roy's yard! All of us trying to get a visual of the bear to determine it's location and course. 

Within just a few minutes I spotted him again all the way at the bottom of the ravine about 150 yards away. He had picked up the power line road once again but this time was heading away from our housing area. He continued to trot along without a care in the world. His meanderings though, had the visitors, rangers and surrounding wildlife in a tizzy! A herd of female Elk and calves took off over the hillside as soon as they caught the scent of the bear. They were fully aware that although the Bear seemed careless about their existence, he could change his mind in a heartbeat. As they bolted and dashed out of our view Shane quickly realized that those panicked mama Elk were headed in the direction of the main road. We called it in over the radio, and back into the vehicles we all piled, making our way to the main road. 

By the time we arrived there was a lineup of cars, trucks and RV's all over the road. They were watching the Elk unaware that a bear might be ensue. Our team of rangers advised the visitors of the possible bear while also making sure that they understood that we might be asking them to get back into their vehicles should the bear pass through. Together we all waited. And waited. And waited some more. It appeared our Bear was gone, lost from human view within the wild lands of Yellowstone. The visitors began to disperse as did the plethora of Rangers.

Heading home I was filled with excitement and adrenalin. My timing had been perfect and I was overjoyed that I had chosen not to dive into the next day's workload.  That evening we shared stories and pictures with our co-workers of the beautiful Grizzly that we had seen, tracked and admired. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day. That Grizzly Bear is just one of many reasons why millions of people flock to Yellowstone every year, for the hope and opportunity to see a truly wild animal in a truly wild landscape. 



  1. Aren't you so happy you didn't miss the Grizzly sighting? That had to be an awesome experience. Glad your husband arrived in his truck so you could join the bear stalking. Another story to make my day! Thanks!!

  2. You are right, I was so thrilled that I had left work and got to see the bear. The timing was perfect! Thanks for reading!

  3. When you are back in NC, you will have some great memories to bring to mind. This has to be one up near the top!!

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