Just because it is public land doesn't mean you can do whatever you want. It means that it is your responsibility to help take care of it and its inhabitants. It means that you are responsible for your behavior and making sure that these beautiful spaces are intact and healthy for the next generation.
It is an honor and privilege to live in Yosemite, and as a wildlife artist it is an incredible opportunity to photograph and learn more about the wildlife in the park. Black bears, like the one above are frequently seen in the park. Contrary to popular belief, black bears come in a variety of colors. People often think that we have grizzly/brown bears in Yosemite, but we do not. Black bears are (generally) smaller, with a straight face, and have tall pointy ears. Grizzly/brown bears are (generally) larger, have a dished face, round ears, and a hump on their shoulders.
For a while there were a lot of bears in the valley, and I'd see them most of the time I went out looking for them. This is a really awesome experience for people, but it also comes with a lot of human responsibility.
Often humans approach bears, let bears approach them, or let bears get human food. This is dangerous for the human and especially for the bear! Never let a bear approach you. You should make yourself as big as possible and make a lot of noise to try and scare the bear away. It is imperative, for the bears own safety, that they remain afraid of humans and do not get human food!! I can not emphasize this enough. Bears that become too used to people and used to getting human food can become aggressive to humans and are sometimes euthanized. As one of my friends says, "If you feed a bear its blood is on your hands." JUST DON'T DO IT. As a mater of fact, it is required by federal regulation to store your food properly.
This means that it is important to keep you food within arms reach during the day and to lock it in a bear box at night or when you can't keep it with you. When camping in Yosemite you must store your food in a bear box, or bear canister 25-50 ft away from your tent. I once saw a ton of food placed in a bear box with the doors left wide open. It does not take much to know that this defeats the purpose of a bear box. Always secure the doors and use any additional latch or locking feature on the box or canister.
Another way to keep bears safe is to drive the speed limit and pay attention to the road. Bears are often hit by cars in the park. Bears do not look both ways before crossing the road, and I have personally seen a bear take off running across a wooded area and across the road without a pause or moments notice. A tragic story shared by one of our bear team members about a baby bear being hit by a car made a huge impact this year and was picked up by news-media outlets like USA TODAY.
In general it is a good idea to read and learn about the places you are visiting. Just because it is public land doesn't mean you can do whatever you want. It means that it is your responsibility to help take care of it and its inhabitants. It means that you are responsible for your behavior and making sure that these beautiful spaces are intact and healthy for the next generation. I've only been here for about 7 1/2 months at the writing of this, and could write a book about some of the ridiculous things people do here, whether out of ignorance or arrogance it doesn't matter. We all need to do better. We can all continue to learn more and hold each other accountable. Often people feel shame for doing or thinking something and then later finding they were wrong. Instead of changing they dig their heels in. There is no shame in learning something new and realizing you were wrong; but it is a terrible shame to learn something new and keep doing the same thing.
If you want to read more on black and brown bear identification check out Get Bear Smart Society's article.
Check out this article from Yosemite on "What to Do if You See a Bear."
For more information about food storage visit Yosemite's article "Bears and food Storage While Backpacking."
I hope you have a chance to get outside, have fun, and make good choices!