CAMPAIGNS: Yosemite puts lid on bear market - Public Affairs

Client: National Park Service (Yosemite, CA)

Client: National Park Service (Yosemite, CA)

Client: National Park Service (Yosemite, CA)

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: ’Keep Yosemite Bears Wild’

Time Frame: April to October 1999

Budget: About dollars 60,000

Yosemite National Park has a long history of problems between clueless

campers and hungry bears. By 1998, the situation had come to a crucial

point. Not only were the park’s native black and brown bears breaking

into cars and rifling through campgrounds in record numbers, they were

growing increasingly hooked on human food. To feed the addiction, bears

had become less afraid of people and more likely to face extermination

by park rangers.

Recognizing the severity of the bear crisis, Congress appropriated

dollars 500,000 to a Yosemite Park-assembled ’Bear Council’ to combat

the problem - part of which was devoted to a comprehensive public

education campaign.


According to Scott Gediman, Yosemite’s media relations chief, the main

goal for the education campaign was to get beyond the idea that this was

simply a bear problem.

’We aimed to shift responsibility for the situation to people by

persuading visitors to act properly, rather than blaming the bears for

simply being bears and doing what comes naturally to them,’ Gediman

says. ’The idea was to make people aware that they have a responsibility

to uphold when they visit a wilderness area, and to show them why this

is not the same as an urban area.’


To kick off the campaign, Gediman and others on the Bear Council,

including Christine Cowles, public information officer and wildlife

communications coordinator (both are also park rangers), hosted a press

conference in Yosemite Valley. Timed to coincide with Earth Day, the

event featured a presentation of new bear-proof canisters and talks by a

wildlife biologist and the park superintendent. More than 26 reporters


’Scott (Gediman) and his team always do a pretty good job at getting the

experts at the press conferences; as much as we like talking to

spokespeople, it’s always good to talk to those with direct experience,’

says Matthew Yi, the Associated Press reporter who attended the

conference and wrote a story.

The council also issued standard press materials to mass media,

including a press release and b-roll showing a bear breaking into a car,

which was picked up by national programs like Dateline NBC and


Additionally, Gediman’s team printed educational ’Keep Bears Wild’

flyers that were handed out to every car entering the park. An

educational video loop was shown in the lobbies of the park’s hotels,

and additional bear information was posted on Yosemite’s Park Service

Web site.


After the AP story hit the wires, hundreds of media outlets around the

country picked it up. Broadcasters including CNN, KCRA and KTVU and

Inside Edition aired the b-roll. The San Francisco Chronicle and The

Wall Street Journal both covered the campaign - although the Journal

managed to find a new angle: that bears there prefer Hondas and


’We needed to be careful of that because people might start to think

that if they don’t have a Honda or a Toyota, they didn’t need to worry,’

Cowles points out.

Most important, the campaign actually worked to influence behavior.

Incidents of property damage, which hovered near 1,600 in 1998, were

reduced to 760 in 1999, and 1998’s dollars 659,000 in property damage

fell to dollars 220,000 in 1999.

The council held a follow-up promotion in September called ’Bear

Awareness Day’ to let people know how well the program had worked. The

day-long press event featured apple-picking at the Curry Village Orchard

(apples draw bears into direct contact with people) and a book signing

by ’Farley’ cartoonist Phil Frank, who often penned comic strips themed

around Yosemite bears.


The program was so successful in 1999, park officials decided to renew

it for 2000. So far, the team has issued a press release entitled

’Springtime in the Valley,’ emphasizing that this is the height of the

season for bear encounters. It has also successfully pitched a story on

the problem to Spanish-language network Univision and is planning to

host an online forum on the issue at

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