Collateral Damage in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: Unintended Consequences of an Elk Feeding Program

Grizzly_Bear_in_Yellowstone_National_Park_Terry Tollefsbol
Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone National Park, photo by Terry Tollefsbol

It was the mid-1990s, and my boyfriend and I were in the midst of a cross-country drive on our way back to college. We stopped for a spell in the picturesque community of Kelly, Wyoming, our jumping-off point for a short backpacking trip in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. I was excited—it was my first time visiting this spectacular landscape—and a bit nervous: we were about to enter grizzly country. We strapped our packs on, checked (perhaps more than a few times) for our cans of bear spray, and set off into the wilds.

Soon it began to drizzle. The drizzle became a steady rain, the steady rain a downpour. Heads down, we trudged along as quickly as we could through a forest of swaying, creaking trees (hoping they wouldn’t fall on us) until our designated campsite came into view. Up went the tent and we crawled inside, wet and exhausted.

Throughout the night, the rain continued. Sleep wasn’t deep; our leaking tent was accumulating water inch by inch, and every snapping branch made me jump. I was convinced bears were patrolling the perimeter of our little camp clearing, and nothing my boyfriend said could convince me otherwise. In the morning, we crawled out to a clear sky and began breaking camp. And then: vindication. In the mud, right by our tent, a perfect bear track.

There is nothing like camping in grizzly country to make you feel alive. Alive, alert, exhilarated—and incredibly blessed.

Grizzly Bear tracks, Photo by Kristen Carden

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, is home to a full complement of our nation’s most noble —> Read More