Grizzly bears waking up at Yellowstone National Park; visitors cautioned

The first grizzly bear sightings of the year at Yellowstone occurred Wednesday. Photo: Courtesy of Kimberly Shields/NPS

A sure sign of spring in iconic Yellowstone National Park is the awakening of grizzly bears from hibernation.

The first confirmed sightings of 2017 occurred Wednesday, near Mammoth Hot Springs and in the northern portion of the park. Two of the grizzlies  were scavenging carcasses.

Yellowstone, which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, issued a news release about the sightings, adding that grizzly bear tracks were observed in the snow as early as Feb. 22.

Park officials caution that grizzlies are hungry after their winter naps, as they seek carcasses of elk and bison that died during the cold season. "Sometimes, bears will react aggressively while feeding on carcasses," the news release states.

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The park also included important guidelines, which are worth heeding anywhere grizzlies exist:

Prepare for a bear encounter.

• Carry bear spray, know how to use it, and make sure it's accessible. (Perhaps the most important safety tip.)

• Stay alert.

• Hike or ski in groups of three or more, stay on maintained trails, and make noise. Avoid hiking at dusk, dawn, or at night.

• Do not run if you encounter a bear.

• Stay 100 yards away from black and grizzly bears. Use binoculars, a telescope, or telephoto lens to get a closer look.  

• Store food, garbage, barbecue grills, and other attractants in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes.

Said Kerry Gunther, the park’s bear management specialist: "Yellowstone visitors care deeply about preserving bears and observing them in the wild. Carrying bear spray is the best way for them to participate in bear conservation because reducing potential conflicts protects both people and bears.”

Visitors who spot a grizzly bear are asked to report the sighting.