Adventurous Auburnite A Yosemite ‘Bear Intern’

Article, written by Andrew Westrope, appears in the Auburn Journal. Published June 5, 2014.

At 18 years of age, Auburn resident Jessica Hadley is well-acquainted with the wild, wooly fauna of the American outback.
The daughter of lifelong environmentalists, she’s been stalking bears and watching wolves from a distance since childhood, but this summer she’s been enlisted by Yosemite National Park to work within arm’s reach of them.

Hadley has been chosen to be a “bear intern” at Yosemite for three months over the summer, from June 23 through September. She said the aim of the job is to reduce human-bear conflict by educating the public and assisting with “bear management,” which will involve tracking the animals with radio collars and personal observation, finding ways to discourage them from entering campsites and occasionally capturing them for removal.

Hadley is the daughter of park rangers who met and married at Yosemite and now work for the US Fish & Wildlife Service – Dad works on wildfires, Mom cleans up oil spills – and she took a cue from their passion at a young age. She remembers following bears and observing wolf packs on family vacations, and having graduated from Del Oro High School in 2013 and finished her first year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, she thought a summer job with the Student Conservation Association was the next step.

“At Yosemite, one of the main attractions has always been the bears. They used to have bear shows … but they stopped those a long time ago,” she said. “We will be catching a few, probably. Sometimes we have to euthanize them due to conflict, but they’ve been doing a good job, so there’s been less and less (of that). … We catch them to collar them and put tags in their ears, and monitor age, weight and all of that.”

Park ranger and Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said Hadley will be one of only a handful of bear interns in the park, as the position is both competitive and highly specialized, and generally reserved for candidates with at least some college experience.

“Being a park ranger and working in a national park is very popular and competitive. … I’ve hired (SCA interns) over the years, and it’s a great foot in the door,” he said. “If there’s a bear that is breaking into cars in the campground, they’ll capture the bear and ‘haze’ it to give it aversive conditioning or negative reinforcement. They work closely with the bears, and I know SCAs we’ve hired in the past generally have experience working with wildlife, have an interest in working with them or are someone we feel is capable of doing something like that, because it’s a very specialized and difficult job.”

Hadley said her attraction to the challenge is twofold: The animals need protection, and she finds them inherently fascinating — wolves for their ecological importance, and bears for their sheer intelligence. She said bears are also extremely curious creatures, even more so than cats and dogs, and she likes knowing the interest is mutual.
“It’s not completely food-motivated, either,” she said. “They’re still interested in people, even if there isn’t food. I find that really fascinating.”