Opportunities for viewing grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and American black bears (U. americanus) from roadways in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) have increased in recent years. Unlike the panhandling bears common prior to the 1970s, current viewing usually involves bears feeding on natural foods. We define roadside bear viewing opportunities that cause traffic congestion as “bear-jams.” We investigated characteristics of bear-jams and their frequency relative to whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) cone production, an important fall food for bears, during 1990–2004. We observed a difference in diel distribution of bear-jams between species (χ2 = 70.609, 4 df, P < 0.001) with the occurrence of grizzly bear-jams being more crepuscular. We found evidence for decreasing distances between bears and roadways and increasing durations of bears-jams. The annual proportion of bear-jams for both species occurring after the week of 13–19 August were 3–4 times higher during poor cone crop years than good. We suggest that native foods found in road corridors may be especially important to some individual bears during years exhibiting poor whitebark pine crops. We discuss management implications of threats to whitebark pine and increasing habituation of bears to people.
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Vol. 24 • No. 1