Adventures in Ethics and Science

Younger offspring: In the summer, we went to Yosemite and stayed in a cabin. We had to be really careful about bears. We couldn’t leave any food outside at all — not even a food wrapper in the car, because sometimes bears get into cars if they think they smell food.

Elder offspring: We also had to be careful about bears when we stayed at the cabin near Shasta for [San Diego friends’] wedding. Remember all the bear art with the reminders not to leave food lying around?

Younger offspring: But we didn’t see any bears either place.

Dr. Free-Ride: I think in the cabin near Shasta, the constant lights and sounds of the wedding festivities probably scared most of the bears off.

Younger offspring: But there really are bears, right?

Elder offspring: Remember at the Yosemite visitor’s center they had all the photos of bears harassing visitors to the park? They said it got so bad that rangers actually had to shoot the bears.

Dr. Free-Ride: Part of how the bears got so bold, though, was that people actively fed them. If a bear gets a taste for people-food, and if that people-food is easier to get than the berries or whatever that you’d be eating otherwise, the smart bears are going to be going for the people-food.

Elder offspring: So basically the bears got in trouble for being smart?

Dr. Free-Ride: Smart about food, but maybe not so smart about how skittish humans can get. Anyway, part of how they changed the situation, so bears weren’t coming right up to cars with people in them to try to get food, is that the people coming to the park had to be trained not to feed the bears, and not to leave their food out.

Younger offspring: Without people feeding them, the bears learned to go back to their natural foods.

Elder offspring: And people learned to be careful with their food even if they didn’t see any bears around.

Younger offspring’s SoCal age-mate: When we went to Yosemite near my birthday, we stayed in a cabin —

Parental unit of younger offspring’s SoCal age-mate: It was a tent-cabin in the valley.

Younger offspring’s SoCal age-mate: — we were putting our food in the bear-box like you’re supposed to —

Parental unit of younger offspring’s SoCal age-mate: Each of the tent-cabins had its own bear-box, and they gave us the whole talk about using them.

Younger offspring’s SoCal age-mate: — and some of our food was already in the bear-box and we were just getting the rest of the food so we could close it up and lock it. But as we were getting the rest of the food, a bear came and took a loaf of bread from our bear-box!

Both Free-Ride offspring: (in unison) Cool!

Parental unit of younger offspring’s SoCal age-mate: The mama bear just grabbed that loaf of bread. And she knew how to get it out of the wrapper before eating it.

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s a well-adapted bear.


  1. #1 Super Sally
    January 4, 2008

    Well I guess there was value in those Yogi Bear cartoons…at least they demonstrated the ingenuity of bears at getting people food, if not the danger of people being in close proximity to bears.

    Did the Park Ranger training have any warnings about special danger after an earth quake? My memories from long ago in Yellowstone (some years before it became Yogi’s native habitat) shortly after a major earthquake are that the bears were less predictable than usual, as were the geysers. The bears seemed to want to break into all cars, food or no, to the point where we cut short our stay in Yellowstone.

    Ah, for the good old evenings at the “Boulder Junction Bear Dump” — actually the local garbage dump in a sparsely populated part of northern WI, with a ridge high above it perfectly situated for relatively safe human observation of small black bears actively pursuing easy human food at twilight.

    Thank heavens for Friday. I was beginning to worry about the lack of new posts.

  2. #2 Bill H
    January 4, 2008

    “Yogi Bear is smarter than the average bear,
    Yogi Bear is always in the ranger’s hair.
    At a picnic table you will find him there
    Stuffing down more goodies than the average bear.

    He will sleep till noon but before it’s dark,
    He’ll have every picnic basket that’s in Jellystone Park.”

  3. #3 KeithB
    January 5, 2008

    I have some old home movies from the 1940’s or 50’s from Sequoia NP. They had troughs outside the lodge and dump in food scraps for the bears to come fight over. There was only a split rail fence between the bears and the onlookers.

    It wasn’t always just the tourists!

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