Here are some suggestions we are pushing to address root causes and avoid a repeat of the tragedy in Yellowstone National Park.
In our mind, after the 2011 attacks and most certainly after this attack, the simplest and most critical policy change must be to make carrying bear spray mandatory. There needs to be an accompanying fine so that failing to carry bear spray is a real deterrent.
There are other changes that should be considered:
– Closer monitoring of grizzly activity in order to close more trails when bears are active. For example, many people knew there was a grizzly sow and cubs near Elephant Back and the trail should have been closed. Why wasn’t it? Maybe a sightings app that allows the public to upload data to the park service can be created, so maximum information is available.
– An increase in bear closure areas should be seriously studied. In Yellowstone, there are many areas that are permanently closed for bear management, resulting in a ban on off trail hiking. Some of these areas are no longer prime grizzly habitat, yet other areas that are open to off trail hiking are loaded with grizzlies. Closure zones need to be flexible and place the bears first for the safety of people.
– Mandatory minimum numbers for hiking on specific trails. In Canada, several trails now require groups of four or more when hiking in grizzly country, with major penalties for failing to do so. Yellowstone even has this policy for Pelican Valley – hiking groups must be composed of three or more people and groups can hike only after 9am and before 7pm. This should be the case on more trails.
– Better education using modern tools. There must be more efforts made to get the message out to the public that bears – and all animals – are wild, need to be respected, and that there is a risk every time you leave the road. More people need to know what to do if a bear attacks, for example. These education tools need to be fast-paced, engaging, multi-lingual and social media friendly. Many people, us included, would be willing to help provide ideas.
– Ban trail running in dense forest/prime grizzly bear habitat. Some have stated that this is already the case, but if it is, we’ve never seen a sign stating the ban. If it’s illegal to trail run on some hikes, better signage needs to be created.
Finally, we’ll add that there is one other critical policy change that needs to happen in the US, as is happening in Canada. If an attack such as this occurs, there needs to be better protocols in place to deal with the bears in question. And that must begin with accepting the proven track record of rehabilitation facilities and creating rehabilitation capacity in the US. While we disagree with the killing of this sow, the cubs should never have been placed in a zoo. Going forward, rehabilitation of cubs should always be the first option explored.