Apex predators have returned to Yellowstone – and that includes the iconic grizzly bear. Within the park, about 150 bears have established their home ranges, while in the greater Yellowstone area, nearly 600 grizzly bears have been counted. But with the return of the 500-pound bears comes the bear jams that are created on the park roads when auto-bound visitors slow down and even stop mid-road to watch a grizzly that has ambled into view. Referred to as roadside grizzlies, they are a big hit with visitors but not always with park management.
According to WyoFile, managing the traffic created by bear jams costs the park a minimum of $50,000 a year. It also requires park staff to be diverted from other jobs. Indeed in 2011, 2,542 staff hours were required to manage 1,031 impromptu bear jams that popped-up inside the park. “We are spending a lot of time, staff time and overtime,” said Kerry Gunther, bear management biologist for Yellowstone. “Managers are wondering…should we do something different?”
A recent report, “The Economics of Roadside Bear Viewing” co-written by Gunther, reveals the economic powerhouse those bears really are – and thus suggests the answer should be no. The $50,000 required to manage bear jams is dwarfed by the $10 million dollars generated for the local economy precisely because the iconic grizzly can be seen wondering roadside. The report shows that visitors would pay an additional $41 per person to ensure seeing a wild grizzly. Furthermore, roadside bears create 155 local jobs that otherwise would not be there if the bear disappeared deeper into the park.
The conclusion of the report was that while Yellowstone Park could save $50,000 a year by managing grizzlies away from roads, this internal park decision would have broader financial consequences amounting to nearly 4% of the regional economy. So, if you are planning a trip to Yellowstone anytime soon, you can rest assured that you still have a chance to spot a grizzly bear – or two.