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Photo Credit: Yellowstone National Park, 2018
Bear Management Areas (BMA) – In recent days, questions have come about in regard to bear management areas or known as “BMA’s” in Yellowstone National Park.
**This material is subject to change at any time due to new available resources**
Why were they created?
What is the purpose of BMA’s?
Why are some BMA’s restricted access or closed to public?
What criteria defines each BMA?
First, let’s outline the objectives of bear management in Yellowstone. The bear management office in the Yellowstone Center for Resources has several objectives. These include preserving and maintaining the genetic integrity, distribution, and behavior of bear populations in Yellowstone; educating the public and visitors about bear ecology, bear human conflicts, conflict resolution and prevention; making anthropogenic food sources inaccessible; make visitors aware of bear presence, dangers of backcountry recreation and how to react during an encounter or confrontation. Most importantly, in my opinion, they are responsible for providing safe opportunities for visitors to observe and appreciate bear in their natural habitat within Yellowstone National Park.
Why were they created? What is their purpose?
The construction of BMA’s was implemented in Yellowstone in 1983. The specific program restricts visitor and recreational use in areas which have seasonal concentrations of grizzly bears. The main goals of the program are:
Those who are performing research in the park in managed areas can gain access through obtaining permission. Additionally, backcountry patrols and monitoring can be carried out in these areas, but are often times kept to a minimum.
What areas are BMA’s and when are they closed? (Fig. 1)
A. Firehole: closed March 10- Friday of Memorial Day weekend
F. Washburn: closed from August 1 – November 10
N. Grant Village: campground opens June 20 or earlier if bear use of spawning streams is over prior to that time
The specific reasons why each of these areas are seasonally restricted or closed varies by location and resources available. Most BMA are in place due to high elk (Fig. 3) and bison density (Fig. 2), or abundance of key resources (i.e. whitebark pine, trout, etc.) (Fig. 4). Please consider areas where bison and elk are present also means calves are available as a food resource. Vegetation is seasonal; one or more types of preferred vegetation can be found within each of the BMA’s. (Fig 1)
Areas where carcasses are typically greatest in Yellowstone are: Heart Lake, Northern Range (Lamar Valley), Norris Geyser Basin, Mud Volcano, and Firehole River area. Carcasses are more prevalent in these areas because of ungulate migration, movement patterns, and density. The number of carcasses during each year may largely vary according to the previous winter season severity (wolves and other predators also generate ungulate carcasses). Surveys are conducted annually to account for the number of carcasses in the previously listed locations. When carcasses are not available in these areas, bears may seek out vegetation and other food resources which include but are not limited to: oniongrass bulbs, spring beauty corms, earthworms, pocket gophers, ants, grasses, sedges, clover, dandelion, and even geothermal soil; ingestion of geothermal soil assists in restoring mineral deficiencies; high concentrations of potassium, magnesium, sulfur (Mattson et al. 1999).
Grizzlies are omnivore generalists and have great dietary plasticity; they can easily switch to other resources. “Bear” in mind, grizzlies can pick from 170+ different plant species to eat. This also comes with seasonal variation with what plants are available. Just because one disappears, does not necessarily spell out disaster.
Bear management areas (BMA) are a topic of recent conversation. The park is currently exploring options for re-evaluating these areas to better represent changes in use/activity, distribution, and resource availability for grizzlies. Two areas up for consideration are Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley. For years, management has made efforts and attempts to restrict Hayden Valley to “no off-trail travel,” though efforts have failed.
Citations: Gunther, K.A. (1994). Yellowstone National Park: Bear Management Plan. Bear Management Office, Yellowstone Center for Resources, Yellowstone National Park, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior.
Tyler Brasington is a native born and raised Pennsylvanian, yet proud current Wisconsin resident. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a B.S. in Environmental Science. Currently, Tyler is pursuing his masters in Natural Resources with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He has worked in Yellowstone National Park under the guidance and supervision of Dr. George Clokey and Dr. Jim Halfpenny.
Disclaimer: The information and views expressed on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Interior, US Geological Survey, National Park Service or the United States Government.
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