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New bear warning signs to greet Yellowstone hikers

New bear warning signs to greet Yellowstone hikers

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JACKSON, Wyo. — People who venture onto the trails in Yellowstone National Park this summer will see new signs warning them about avoiding bears and what to do if they should encounter one.

Last summer two people were killed in the park in separate bear encounters. Neither hiker carried bear spray. One ran when attacked and one was hiking alone. The park recommends hiking in groups, carrying bear spray and not running if you surprise a bear, said Kerry Gunther, a Yellowstone bear management biologist.

Park officials studied ways to help visitors remain safe after last summer's deaths, Gunther said at a meeting of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee in Teton Village on Thursday.

Park surveys found only 16 percent of day hikers carried bear spray while up to 70 percent of backpackers did so, Gunther said.

Backpackers must get a backcountry permit, during which time they receive additional bear safety information from rangers. They also must watch a video, which includes information on bears in the park and bear spray, he said.

Another survey found that less than 5 percent of backcountry users read trailhead sign boards, Gunther said.

The old bear signs had been in use since the 1980s. They provided a block of text warning people about how to behave in bear country and in different kinds of encounters. The signs were intended to be concise, complete and attention-grabbing, Gunther said.

The new signs are simplified, with a large "Bear Attack" at the top to catch hikers' attention. They provide basic safety suggestions: Be Alert. Make Noise. Carry bear spray. Avoid hiking alone. Do not run.

The concept might be simple, but a lot of work went into creating the design, said Greg Losinski with the Idaho Game and Fish Department, who was part of an information and education working group that helped create the signs.

The signs needed to be direct, he said. The old signs were not garnering the appropriate reaction from people, he said.

"People are becoming blasé and not taking it seriously," he said.

The signs will hang about 50 to 100 yards down the trail, instead of at the trail head where people often don't stop, Gunther said.

The design is the result of a collaboration between staff members from different agencies. Sign production was funded by a grant of a little less than $3,000 from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, Gunther said.

The signs will be available to all agencies in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, although some might need to make modifications because of land use, he said. For instance, areas on national forests may have people who bike or bring their pets, he said. Hopefully, he said, all the agencies will keep the basic look of the sign to help standardize the message.

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