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With GPS, Yosemite Prevents Dangerous Run-Ins With Bears

Yosemite National Park is using GPS devices on nine bears to try and prevent potentially dangerous run-ins between humans and hungry bears.

Every year, 4 million guests visit Yosemite National Park hoping to get close to nature. But sometimes, nature can get a little too close — there are bears wandering into campgrounds looking for food.

The number of incidents involving bears has dropped dramatically over the past 16 years, but this year, Yosemite is seeing a slight uptick.

Now the park has a new tool. With sophisticated GPS collars, wildlife biologists are tracking the movements of nine bears, hoping to better manage them.

"We can locate the locate the animal and get it out of the area," says Ryan Leahy, a biologist who's been with the park for eight years. He patrols the park at night, this night, he's looking for an 8 year old black bear wandering around the area.

Leahy's team finds the bear in a campsite just 50 yards from a tent. "Can you tell me what's going on with that bear?" he asks his team via radio. He soon learns his team found the bear and has chased him up a black oak tree.

The bear, clearly agitated, is moaning loudly. The team members decide to back off, hoping the bear will leave.

A short time later, the bear comes down and races into another area. The park team uses GPS to find him in a different spot — "he's straight out this way," a member reports.

Once again, the bear takes shelter in a tree. This time, he's farther from the campsite, so the team members feel comfortable letting him be. It's the right decision. The next day, Leahy tells us GPS tracking showed that the bear has moved deep into the wilderness.

"The GPS devices have enabled us to better manage the bear situation to achieve our ultimate goal, which is keep Yosemite bears wild," Park Ranger Scott Gediman says.