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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Brainy bruin a master thief

A black bear. Photo by Gerry Lemmo.

A black bear. Photo by Gerry Lemmo.

A lot of bears are smarter than the average bear. But there is one bear in the Adirondacks that is smarter than all those above-average bears.

Yellow-Yellow, as she’s called, apparently is the only bear in the country that has figured out how to open the latest canisters made by Bear Vault.

Since August 2005, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has required campers in the eastern High Peaks to store food, garbage, and toiletries in “bear-resistant” canisters. Since then, hikers have occasionally reported that a bear stole food from their Bear Vaults.

DEC spokesman David Winchell said the culprit is a she-bear that ranges from the Johns Brook Valley to Lake Colden. “We know it’s one bear in particular,” he said. “Wherever she isn’t, it hasn’t happened.”

Yellow-Yellow wears a radio collar that enables DEC to track her wanderings. Her nickname comes from the color of her ear tags.

Winchell described Yellow-Yellow as a shy creature that flees people, notwithstanding her taste for their food and her knack for procuring it.

On its Web site, Bear Vault says the bear learned how to open its BV350 model in 2007 by pressing in a tab with its tooth and unscrewing or prying open the lid. As a result, Bear Vault designed a new lid last year (the BV450) that requires the user to push in two tabs sequentially. “Surprisingly, the bear(s) pressed in the first snap with its incisor, rotated the lid and then pressed in the 2nd snap with its incisor and opened the lid,” the company says.

Jamie Hogan, the company’s president, is both frustrated and impressed by Yellow-Yellow’s ingenuity. “If she comes across a Bear Vault, she will open it as quickly as a hiker,” he told the Explorer.

DEC is advising people against using Bear Vaults in the eastern High Peaks. He said there have been no problems with canisters made by other companies, if they are in good condition and used properly.

Despite the wily she-bear, Winchell said the canister program has been a big success. In 2005, DEC received 375 complaints of “negative bear-human interactions” in the High Peaks. Last year, it received only sixty-one. Most of those came from people who weren’t using bear canisters.

Bear Vault plans to test a new lid in the Adirondacks this summer, but Hogan refused to divulge its secret.

Wouldn’t want word to leak out to Yellow-Yellow.

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

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13 Responses

  1. Jonathan Mulyca says:

    I was at marcy dam last weekend and was told by a ranger that bv350 and 450 were broken into by actually braking the lid. I knew this last year after purchasing a vault so I drilled three holes and used a multi tool to screw the screws through the lid and into the can. The ranger said it would not work, however he did not allow me to test it. I feel a little upset that I cannot try something but these companies are able to, and to top it off Im forced to purchase their product so I can once again enjoy hiking and camping in the adirondacks. How about we attach a battery and some wire to the outside of the vault. after being shocked once or twice they might just learn to stay away from the can. Anyway, great story. Im glad I know the name of the bear, I hope I never run into her.

  2. Derek says:

    The word is breaking….

    • Phil says:

      I thought I’d share the reaction of a friend who sent me a message via Facebook:

      “I think the Bear Vault folks are running the risk of creating a canister that is hiker-proof, too. It reminds me of something Bobby Valentine said about the art of crafting signs and signals, when he was managing the Mets: ‘We need to make them complicated enough so that their smart guys don’t get ’em, but simple enough so that out dumb guys do.'”

  3. Jonathan Mulyca says:

    thanks for contributing something useful Derek.

  4. suz says:

    hi phil, great story about the wily she-bear!

    • Phil says:

      Thanks, Suz. Afterward, I thought I had one too many references to “she-bear.” It should be assumed that any bear smart enough to open a canister must be female.

  5. Jeff Abbott says:

    Wow, Yellow-Yellow is a very intelligent (and rare) bear! My BearVault hasn’t met a bear yet that could crack it open for my tasty treats! I’ve used my BV for a few years now and love it! (Also doubles as a camping seat.)

  6. Nogods says:

    Bear season will be coming ’round again soon.

    This problem could be easily resolved.

  7. Dirigo says:

    “Smaaarrter than the average bear…)

  8. How to scare a bear @ says:

    […] issue. And if you’re interested in bears, you’ll be interested in our earlier post about Yellow-Yellow, the bear that learned how to open food […]

  9. Cindian Works says:

    Ha! Met Yellow Yellow, first person. It was crowded by the Flowed Lands leanto. Almost like a motel. There were tents everywhere, and a few folks didn’t have Bear Canisters. When a pair of fellas went to hang their food just about dark 9:00pmish, Yellow Yellow came out of nowhere. It was “BEAR BEAR” amongst the campers. they dropped their food bag, adn she graciously took it puncturing two peanut butter jars in the process.

    We hung up our kitchen goods, thinking it didn’t have an odor THAT BAD! Guess again. Apparently Yellow Yellow looks for BAGS, cause BAGS mean food. Our food was in a Canister under a log about 150 from the Leanto.

    Anyway, she snapped the branch anchoring one of the legs of the rope holding the bag, by shaking one of the trees anchoring the rope. This lowered the bag to where she started fussing withit. (Thanks to ninjitsu tying techniques) some more yelling by what seemed like about a dozen campers, and strobe flashing (cameras?) and flashlights, she gave up.

    She didn’t get the cookware. But still, this baby’s not someone to mess with! Apparently she lives in Flowed Lands area. Campers’ beware….pack all your foods in Canisters, and if you can’t find one, take the red trail to the leanto/camp areas to the east, and you will see a decently ribbon marked DEC provided (CLEAN) communal canister not too far away.

  10. Drew Allport says:

    I’ve camped the last couple years in the Lake Colden/Flowed Lands area — apparently this is the ol’ gal who sparked the ranger’s nickname “Bear Tupperware” for the BearVault containers.

  11. Joe says:

    In regards to what nogods said about bear season: if this was any other bear, then yes maybe you could ‘resolve’ it, but since ‘yellow yellow’ is tagged(thus her name) and collared you can not shoot her, unless it was in self defense and even than I am sure there would be a lengthy investigation.

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