When it comes to how Yellowstone National Park handles bear management, a lot has changed since visitors first began pouring in more than a century ago. At that time, bears were known to feed on garbage behind park hotels, and tourists eagerly fed them along park roadways—resulting in an average of 48 bear-inflicted human injuries each year from 1931 to 1969.
In 1970, park officials implemented a new bear management program to restore bears to a diet of natural foods. The program includes regulations that prohibit visitors from feeding bears and the installation of garbage cans designed to be bear-proof. The results were overwhelmingly positive: Human injuries dropped dramatically, as did the need to euthanize bears posing a threat to visitors.
Despite this success, human-bear encounters are still a reality, and keeping bears from accessing human food remains a top priority. Preventing bears from obtaining human foods is the foundation of Yellowstone National Park’s Grizzly Bear Conservation Program today.
A proven solution to the problem? Installing bear-proof storage containers, also known as bear boxes, at roadside campgrounds.
“The most successful method to prevent bears from becoming conditioned to human foods has been to provide park visitors with bear-proof food storage boxes that are convenient and easy to use,” says Yellowstone’s bear biologist Kerry Gunther. “The park’s ultimate goal is to have a bear box in every campsite in every campground.”
Yellowstone Forever offers the opportunity to play a direct role in protecting Yellowstone’s bears while improving visitor safety through the Sponsor a Bear Box Program. Those who contribute a bear-box sponsorship at the $1,500 level are recognized with an engraved plate bearing the individual or group sponsor’s name permanently affixed to the box.
Many sponsors have even taken this opportunity to honor a loved one. If supporters are unable to reach this full sponsorship amount, donations of a smaller amount will be put toward other important aspects of the project—such as bear-box transportation or installation.
So far, 488 bear boxes are available in campgrounds throughout the park, thanks in part to the generosity of Yellowstone Forever supporters. But with more than 1,000 campsites without bear-safe storage, there is still work to be done.
Yellowstone Forever plans to help with the funding and logistics needed to install a bear box at every campsite in every campground in Yellowstone by 2026 or earlier, depending on funding and speed of installation.