Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Efforts to protect wildlife in Sequoia National park result in fewer run-ins with bears

September 14, 2009, 7:17 am
It was a small mistake, one that the campers would laugh about and remedy the next day with a trip to the store.

Someone in the party of 40 people from Southern California had left the door to their campsite's bear-proof food locker open overnight. Two bears walked in to the site and gorged on marshmallows, potato chips, steak, bacon, chocolate, sour cream and cheese.

They left untouched the fruit and vegetables.

"They were very American bears," said camper Renne DePace, the next night.

However slight, such oversights by visitors to Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks are a main reason black bears come looking for food in the campgrounds and parking lots.

Over time, those campground bears can pass on their habits to their youngsters or become more aggressive, acting in threatening ways toward people and doing significant damage to visitor and park property. When bears are found guilty of those last offenses, they often have to be killed.

It's the job of Sandy Herrera and Danny Gammons to make sure that interactions between humans and bears in the park rarely come to that point.

During the summer months, Herrera, a bear technician, and Gammons, a wildlife biologist, team up to patrol highly visited areas, hoping to head off the bears before they get their paws on any human grub. Much of their work takes place at night, when bears have learned to slip into campgrounds under the cover of darkness and steal away with food.

From their park-issued SUV or on foot, Herrera and Gammons use heavy-duty flashlights and night-vision optics to look for those bears, racing to an area of a campground if they hear shouting, the banging of pots or barking of dogs. If they spot bears, they'll yell and use an array of tools — slingshots, whistles, a large cap pistol called a banger, or a paintball gun loaded with natural-oil balls — to scare them off.