Kerry Gunther, NPS Bear Management Program Leader, recently took time to speak with YCERP about the upcoming Bear Seminars and to share his thoughts on recreating in Yellowstone, a place he has called home for over 30 years. Kerry and his staff will present seven Bear Seminars for park employees this May and June. These seminars are jam-packed with interesting facts and information including the history of the park’s bear management program, species identification, bear behavior, how to avoid bear encounters and what to do if you find yourself face to face with a bear.
What is the biggest misconception people have about Yellowstone’s bears?
The biggest misconception most people have about Yellowstone’s bears is that when they attack they want to kill and eat you. Actually, most attacks are defensive in nature, when a hiker has surprised a female with cubs, the female feels her cubs are threatened and wants to neutralize the perceived threat. In most cases, once the threat is neutralized, the female gathers up her cubs and leaves the area. In general bear attacks are very rare, even defensive attacks, but predatory attacks are extremely rare.
You and your staff will present seven Bear Seminars for Yellowstone employees this spring. What message do you hope employees take from these seminars?
I hope that everyone learns to respect bears, but also that they learn enough about bear behavior and how to defuse confrontations with bears so that they have the confidence to hike and camp in the backcountry while enjoying themselves. Yellowstone has an amazing backcountry full of wondrous places to explore. I want the next generation of park employees to appreciate Yellowstone’s backcountry as much as I do.
We know you’re not always studying bears. As a Yellowstone resident, how do you enjoy the park in your off time?
I hike the trails, climb the peaks, and sea kayak and canoe Yellowstone, Lewis, and Shoshone Lakes. I also enjoy walking the boardwalk trails to see the thermal features, but I hike them in the early morning before most of the park visitors are out, or in the early evening when most visitors are inside having dinner.
Any favorite trails?
My favorite backpacking trip is to hike the trail from Old Faithful to Bechler in the fall after the mosquitoes are gone. I enjoy side trips to the waterfalls and a soak near Ferris Fork Creek.
You pitch for the league champion Slammin Goofballs in YCERP’s softball league. What gets your heart pumping faster: facing a homerun hitter in a close game or standing face to face with a grizzly bear?
I’d rather face a charging grizzly bear any day than face the first six batters in the Geezers lineup. The Geezers who had won the championship for quite a few years straight, don’t have a weak hitter in their lineup and any one of their first six hitters can hit one out any time they’re up, even with the wind blowing in.
Is there anything else you would like to share with Yellowstone employees?
The summer will go by very quickly, get out and see the park and enjoy the backcountry. I am fortunate to have come for just one summer and to have found a permanent job here and stayed for 33 years now. But many employees may stay for just one summer, so go out and see as much as you can, especially the backcountry. Those memories will last you a lifetime.
For more information on Yellowstone’s bears visit: http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/bearsafety.htm
Interested in seeing Kerry and other softball players on the field? Check out the Athletics page for league sports information. Softball begins Monday, June 22nd.