The black bears are the main attraction. Although here in the western United States they have brown fur. In the autumn they descend into the valley from the mountains to feed on wild berries, acorns and beechnuts so they can build a layer of fat for the winter. Visitors see this as the best time to capture these creatures on camera. The cubs often make this very easy for them. They are curious and explore the surroundings as their mother gathers provisions.
The bears in California’s national parks are becoming more and more tame. Humans are tempting them with leftovers left carelessly in cars and garbage baskets. This has caused bears to stop searching for food and to serve themselves from visitors’ lunch bags.
VAN BAILEY: “People like to see them, they like to take pictures of them and so when they come into the picnic areas they let them come in. At night time now, when they come in and nobody is around I don’t chase them. I just let them do their bear thing because they’re eating acorns. But during the summer when it’s really busy, they’re there for one reason and that’s for the picnic baskets. Ok you guys, let’s back out of the road. They’re all happy because they got to see bears.”
NARRATOR: The working day of park ranger Joe Madison begins at eight in the evening. He is once again off to spend the night trying to keep bears from invading camping grounds in search of food. Although visitors are asked not to leave foodstuffs lying around in the open and the park has replaced rubbish bins with bear-safe metal containers, careless campers continue to crop up again and again.
The bears are becoming accustomed to getting their food this way and losing their shyness around humans. This is making them a danger to people because bears who want a sandwich will go on the attack to get it. If this happens the ranger will have no choice but to shoot the aggressive bear.
JOE MADISON: “Oh, I love bears. Believe me, we do this for the bears, not the people. A lot of people, you know, they think we’re out here protecting them from the bears but it’s actually quite the opposite. We’re trying to protect the bears from the visitors, from them getting the visitors’ food and things like that. Yeah, we’re definitely in it for the bears.”
NARRATOR: This is why the rangers set special bear traps. They lure them with peanut butter and cocoa powder. If a bear steps into the trap it will be fitted with a mini transmitter. This will allow the rangers to track its every move in the future.
PARK RANGER: “We hang that in the back of the trap and, in theory, the bear goes in and pulls down on the bag and it triggers the door to shut.”
NARRATOR: While this is going on park visitors get in position, as they do every evening. They want to photograph some of the world’s most legendary mountains at sunset. The most famous peak is the Half Dome. Thanks to the rangers this night is likely to be yet another night without bears.