Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Yellow-Yellow Obituary

bear yellow yellowYellow-Yellow, roughly 20 years of age, of the Marcy Dam-Lake Colden corridor in the High Peaks Wilderness ascended to her heavenly den for an eternal hibernation after being slain by a hunter’s bullet on October 21, 2012 in the town of Jay (as reported by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise).

Yellow-Yellow was a shy, small female black bear, named after the color of the tags placed on each ear by New York State Department of Conservation wildlife biologists in the early 2000’s. She was known more for stealth and ingenuity than brawn, which eventually led to her notoriety. As bears go, she typically avoided contact with humans, being more thief than brigand.

Apparently, advanced age brought about an alleged increased aggressiveness toward campers and hikers with food, which is a common phenomenon among the animal kingdom as anyone observing geriatrics at a Denny’s around five in the afternoon can attest. Perhaps this aggressiveness played a role in her recent demise.

She became notorious for her ability to thwart the BearVault, a supposedly black bear resistant canister used for safeguarding foodstuffs from hungry bruins. Despite the canisters thorough testing using both black and grizzly bears, Yellow-Yellow remains the only bear to ever open the lid and extract the many goodies inside. Apparently, she enhanced her repertoire during the spring of 2011, with reports of her thwarting the Bear Keg, another type of bear resistant canister, although it appears that canister was improperly sealed.

Yellow-Yellow became widely famous for her unique talent when her exploits were featured in a 2009 New York Times article. In addition, she was featured in the Adirondack Explorer and even here at the Adirondack Almanack. As her fame as a talented thief grew, many appropriated meals were attributed to her, whether or not she was sighted in the immediate area.

Apparently, opening BearVaults was not her only talent, as she was allegedly caught red-handed stealing a backpack on video earlier this year, although it is difficult to clearly see both yellow tags in this video.

She is predeceased by her parents, two unknown bears of the High Peaks region. She is survived by numerous offspring, although it is not clear of their current whereabouts, or whether she inculcated her unique talent to any of them. There have been reports of possible protégés accompanying her in years past, but none have been independently verified.

Her ear tags were absent at the time of her death. Perhaps she discovered an equally ingenious way out of them. Unfortunately, she was not as successful with her radio collar, which allowed for her identification. On the other hand, perhaps she is smarter than the rest of us, and the reverse is actually true.

Although many shall lament the death of this extraordinary bear, there are probably some individuals feeling mixed emotions concerning her passing. Hikers and campers that purchased the BearVault to use in the High Peaks region may be relieved they can once again venture into the area without the constant threat of having their delicious nutrition bars pilfered. In addition, those backpackers, who due to no fault of their own became victims of this intelligent bear, may be relieved to hear of her recent passing too. They may even think she met her just desserts.

One might think the manufacturers of the BearVault are relieved now that the only bear ever to thwart their product is no longer a threat. For years, they played a Cold War-like battle with this crafty bear, making innovating changes to the design of the canister to no avail as Yellow-Yellow foiled every one of them. Jamie Hogan of BearVault, Inc. showed no such ambivalence, as he wrote with great respect about his nemesis, “She was a very unique bear- just what natural selection is really all about.”

There will be no services held for Yellow-Yellow. Instead, anyone hiking or backpacking through the Marcy Dam-Lake Colden corridor should bow their head and observe a few moments of silence in respect for this extraordinary bear. Perhaps using a BearVault as a makeshift altar, if one is handy.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donations in Yellow-Yellow’s name to the Wildlife Conservation Society or New York State Department of Conservation, through the Gift to Wildlife on your New York State income tax form. Both organizations are at the forefront of studying and protecting black bears in the Adirondacks and beyond.

Rest in peace, Yellow-Yellow. You will be missed. Wherever you are, may you find a plentiful supply of BearVaults to open, each filled with your favorite backpacking treats.

Photograph: DEC wildlife staff Ed Reed and Ben Tabor fit Yellow-Yellow with a radio collar in 2011, courtesy of DEC.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

73 Responses

  1. Love it! Due respect for a crafty bruin “smarter than the average bear”.

    • Larry varley says:

      One of 1.200+ bears shot during hunting season..Dosent any one remember that it was a Bear that took a baby off her parents poarch down in the catskills a few years ago. Dosent any one know that a old Bear will Assoiate People with food.. No Food then the people can becone the food.

    • Janet G says:

      I am saddened to hear of Yellow-Yellows passing. I think the fact that Yellow-Yellow was able to open bear proof kegs is a tribute to the ingenuity of the bear. Hooray for Yellow-Yellow! After all, the woods belongs to them. We are only visitors. I hope she taught her off-spring, or that they were paying attention while she did it.
      Maybe the old way is the best way; hang the food high.

  2. Victoria Seeburger says:

    My husband and son “met” Yellow Yellow this summer while they were camped at Marcy Dam. They were cooking after dark at their site (not recommended) and she lumbered right up to them, so they got a good look at her yellow ear tags. My 7 year old was, of course, terrified and ran down to the dam to escape the danger. My husband allowed his sense of justice (over losing any of his precious bakpacking food) to overpower his sense of logic, and jabbed her several times with his trekking pole. This gave him enough time to seal the bear vault and roll it out to her before he followed after our son. She didn’t get it opened, much to my husband’s relief. Later, they spotted her with 2 cubs by the dam. Of course, they have told and retold this story of “drama and danger” to countless family and friends, and have the memory of a lifetime. It is a shame that Yellow Yellow was shot by a hunter, but at least she lived a good, long life.

    • Paul says:

      A 20 year old bear can have cubs? Are you sure this is the same bear?

    • Dan Crane says:


      Thank you for sharing your husband and son’s story about Yellow-Yellow. It is definitely a good one.

      I have been close to bears before, but within hiking pole poking distance is way too close for me. Although sacrificing the food is positive reinforcement for the bear’s aggressive behavior, it is definitely a better alternative than being mauled or worse. Luckily, everything worked out for the best and not only did they have a memory to last a lifetime but they got to keep their food in the bargain!

  3. Mike Lynch says:

    This blog entry is moronic. I would also recommend that you verify and obtain information on your own, instead of just lifting information from articles you’ve read on the Internet.

    • Dan Crane says:

      Moronic? Ouch! Frivolous maybe, but moronic?

      I am sorry you did not find the article up to snuff. But may I remind you, this is a blog, NOT a newspaper. This article was simply my homage to an extraordinary bear, nothing more. Hopefully, my next effort will be up to your standards.

      Though, I do not guarantee it!

  4. Ellen says:

    Poor Yellow-Yellow! Great piece, though. RIP.

  5. Mike Lynch says:

    The banner at the top of the page says that this site is the Adirondack Explorer’s Online News Journal. At the bottom of this page, it states that The Almanack is the online news magazine of the Adirondack Explorer. To me, that implies that this is more than a blog.

    I was irked because it appeared that much of the information in the top half of this story was lifted from the article I wrote on this same subject. Newspapers have standards that you can’t lift information directly from another without giving proper credit. I think your news magazine should also have this standard.

    I think you also need to make corrections in about four or five of your paragraphs where you refer to Yellow Yellow as the only bear that can open BearVaults. That’s not true, according to what DEC spokesman Dave Winchell told me last week. Other bears have been known to open them also. That’s a main theme in your story that needs to be changed.

    Paragraph four also has an error. You refer to Yellow Yellow being able to open Bear Kegs this summer. I mentioned that in my article. However, you link an article from last year. That’s confusing.

    Sorry to give you a hard time but these are the types of criticisms that I am subjected to as a journalist, even when writing lighthearted stories. I have no problem with the basic idea behind your story. I think it’s a good one. What I do have a problem with is the method. I believe online writers need to verify facts, interview sources and do research outside of the Internet. That’s what legitimate writers and journalists do, unless you are writing fiction. I think Almanack contributors should be held to these same standards. After all, this site is the “news magazine of the Adirondack Explorer.”

    • Dan Crane says:

      I appreciate your comments and corrections, although I am confused by your argument that the Adirondack Almanack is not a blog. You clearly and concisely state “This blog entry is moronic” in your original comment, apparently telling the difference is confusing even to an experienced professional.

      I added a new explicit reference to your article in the first sentence rather than the original, less direct link. You are correct that I should have included a direct one, clearly identifying the source as your article. Hopefully, this corrects my oversight.

      I am sticking to my original assertion of Yellow-Yellow being the only well-documented case of a bear foiling the BearVault. This is the sole reason for her fame, as stated in the NY Times article. In addition, Jamie Hogan stated in an email to me that Yellow-Yellow was the only bear he knew of that had foiled his product. Plus, I allude to there being possibly others (her grown cubs perhaps) in paragraph 7 when I talk about possible protégés.

      Thank you for pointing out that the year of the Bear Keg incident was incorrect. That was an error on my part, as for some reason I still think the year is 2011. In addition, I got the season wrong too. Both are now correct.

      In the future, if you find errors or oversights in my articles, it would be more helpful if you pointed them out without starting your comment with a confrontational statement, such as “This blog entry is moronic.” It seems to me that statements such as those do not illicit an environment of cooperation or collaboration.

      Then again, I am not a professional, so what do I know.

    • Leslye Seymour says:

      OOH !!! boohoo..he rewrote some of your words. I thought your name was Mike Lynch not Michael Crichton !!!

  6. Mike Lynch says:

    Thanks for the corrections, Dan. I wrote the “moronic” comment out of frustration. That was a mistake.

  7. Scott W. Saranac Lake says:

    Brave armed hunter kills shy elderly bear. Such a brave man. Was it fun for you? Was it really necessary?

    • Leslye Seymour says:

      I thought the same thing Scott, a bear had to die because of some foolish hunter looking to get thrills.

  8. Andy says:

    Can hunters use a bear’s radio collar to track it?

    • Dan Crane says:

      I would imagine that it is probably technically feasible to use a bear’s radio collar to track it, but I certainly hope it is illegal to do so. It probably requires some sort of inside information too, since there must be certain frequency differences between collars in order to tell individuals apart. Although, since I have never tracked a bear before using a collar, I am hardly an authority on the matter.

      • Jason B. says:

        Hunters cannot use these radio collars to track bears. They are put on the Bears by ENCON and Biologist who ask hunters not to shoot them, but it isn’t illegal to (unethical in my opinion because a good hunter should want to help their cause, even if helping means simply not being an obstacle to their studies). I think Dan is right to use the words “technically feasible”. Maybe some MIT graduate could figure it out but no one who would stoop so low to hunt this way would have the required intelligence. Maybe a stereo-type toothless rambo wannabe hunter like Scott and Leslye (who commented above) seem to know…but none that I’ve ever met.

  9. Marco says:

    Well, I had to laugh at the very humor that made yellow-yellow such a terror. The description of her opening a Bear Vault was one of twisting her head after biting the lock. Two such locks did nothing, of course. I simply installed a screw preventing her from twisting the lid after reading that description.

    I am pretty sure the radio collar is fairly definitive. ‘Course, Yellow-Yellow might have put it on one of her consorts… In many ways, I am sorry to hear of her passing. She was a “good” bear in that she never attacked anyone, nor showed any inclination to do so. My job was to insure she didn’t get to steal my food. When hiking through the High Peaks, I will miss that game…

    • Dan Crane says:

      She either got out of her ear tags OR her radio collar. I assume the authorities can tell the difference between the male and female bear, so instead of a consort, it would have had to been a rival.

      Did your screw actually work? Did Yellow-Yellow (or any other bear) try to get into it and fail? Did you put the screw just through the lid or both the lid and the container?

      Check out Victoria’s comment above about her husband and son’s interaction with Yellow-Yellow. It appears she indeed became more aggressive with age and/or experience.

      • Marco says:

        Dan, Yeah, youare right! It had to have been a rival!! SHE LIVES!!!!

        The screw I put in was through both the lid and the cannister. One bear, (I don’t think it was yellow-yellow) knocked it around one night near Lake Colden. Nothing to say it worked or didn’t work, but it would defeat her “twisting” the top loose as described in another article, eyewitnessing her opening one.

        Yeah, I see this as a mark of her intelligence. She would just show up begging…she knew people were not a threat, despite repeated deterance (rubber bullets) by rangers. People would panic and leave (food and all) and she was rewarded. This is not agression…yet. Allowing herself to be poked by a trekking pole shows she was not really interested in people, she wanted what the people had, which she apparently got. As she got older, I am sure it would have gotten worse, so, I am glad she was removed. People, bear and food never mix.

        Yet to be seen if her opening behavior will be passed on, though some people on the High Peaks “hotline” say it already has been…

  10. Ben says:

    The death of Yellow-Yellow begs the question – Why is the shooting of bears allowed as a state sanctioned “sport?”

    • Solidago says:

      Why do we allow the use of motor vehicles when we know that every single day they kill one million animals? And that is just in the United States.

      • Dan Crane says:

        In to the animals they kill, think of all the people that get killed in/with/by cars every year.

      • Ben says:

        The last I checked, I wasn’t aware that vehicles are on the highways purposely looking for animals to kill. I always thought these vehicles were trying to go from A to B. I could be wrong.

        • Solidago says:

          I’m pretty sure that the million animals killed, and the countless others maimed and wounded on our highways every day don’t care about our motives.

          • Dave says:

            This is a silly argument. Hey, lots of people accidentally die as a result of cars too… according to this logic it should be ok to intentionally kill people as well.

            Who cares about the motives, the people are dead one way or another!

  11. Monika Roosa says:

    I’m confused. Was this poor bear shot and left to die? I’m not up on the hunting rules in NYS. Is it legal for an animal to be killed once it’s been tagged? 🙁

    • Dan Crane says:

      I’m not a hunter, but I would imagine that any bear during bear season are fair game, regardless of whether they have ear tags, a radio collar, or a green hat and tie. Bears in zoos and circuses would be exempt, of course.

      This does beg the question: Is it easier to spot (and therefore shoot) a bear with brightly colored ear tags?

      • Paul says:

        The tags are not much of a disadvantage. I thought there were none left on the bear anyway. The DEC needs help culling these animals. The problem is they are far from a road usually a tough to get out if

    • Loribe says:

      …this article & post is a year old …just found my way to it. I think we can assume YY was not shot and left to die …that’s not what hunters do. They collect their quarry – it needs to be tagged & reported. Bear meat is eaten (although not sure how tasty a 20 year old bear would be – the hunter cannot know the age of the bear before he shoots) Of course an animal often bolts once shot, it does not drop dead on the spot …the hunter has to track – hope for a good blood trail. Some hunters are better trackers than others, some give up too soon. A good marksman makes a good shot & the animal does dies quickly even though it may run a distance first. But then not all hunters are marksmen just as not all hunters are good at tracking …I did not read that YY was found dead – I assumed she was tagged by the hunter but I could be wrong.

  12. Geoff says:

    RIP, Yellow Yellow. Does this really mean that we can use our BearVaults in the High Peaks again? Has DEC said as much?

    • Dan Crane says:

      There appears to be some evidence that other bears thwarted the BearVault in the High Peaks. Perhaps they are Yellow-Yellow’s grown cubs. I would consult with the Ranger in the High Peaks region before using one, unless you enjoy throwing the dice on whether your food will make it.

      Then again, if everyone is avoiding using the BearVault, how will they ever know whether there are other bears foiling it?

    • John Warren says:


      DEC issued a statement about a month or two ago saying that they and the manufacturer are discouraging the use of BearVault Canisters in the Eastern High Peaks as bears are regularly defeating this type of canister and obtaining the food stored inside.

      John Warren

      • Geoff says:

        Thanks Dan and Warren,

        I wonder if other bears really thwarted the BearVault, or whether they were other cases of Yellow-Yellow. This bear apparently got around. The easy answer from DEC is “don’t use them” but, of course, they aren’t the ones buying new canisters…..

        • Dan Crane says:

          I wonder the same thing, Geoff. By the way, I feel your pain, as I own two of the older, single tab BearVaults. They worked great in the Five Ponds Wilderness and in the Sierra Nevada’s!

  13. Pete says:

    The bear was apparently harvested by a licensed sportsman who reported his harvest to the DEC. An since Hunting license fees are spent on wildlife conservation, education and enforcement, perhaps buying a hunting license(even if you don’t hunt) would be a good way to support wildlife in NY.

    • Dan Crane says:

      Excellent idea! Not being a hunter, I would never have thought of that additional way to support wildlife conservation.

      • Jeremy says:

        The DEC even sells a $5 “Habitat and Access” stamp that benefits conservation efforts. It’s not just for sportsmen.

        I agree with Pete. Duck enthusiasts and birders have been known to purchase Federal Duck Stamps as well with the same intention.

    • Dave says:

      This would make sense assuming you agree with how and why wildlife is managed and “conserved” in the state, which is in part for the benefit of hunting.

      If instead you prefer a management approach with a goal of returning wildlife to a more natural state, and for the enjoyment of all New Yorkers, then there are better ways to support wildlife here.

  14. RIP Yellow-Yellow « adirondack46er says:

    […] Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  15. PC says:

    Thank you for this very sweet tribute. RIP Yellow-Yellow.

    • Jimmy says:

      Sweet tribute? huh? Somehow Mr. Crane finds the killing of this beautiful wild bear so incidental as to make a joke about it. Shows the lowest possible level of human awareness.

      • Rick says:

        Joke HELL! I hope my obituary reads that well. A fantastic tribute to one of God;s great creations. By the way I’m a hunter as well but I still will miss her. Great job Bob!!!

  16. Ann says:

    I had no idea that it was acceptable, approved,or even allowed to shot an animal identified by a respected and responsible wildlife agency and tagged as such. For the people and agency to have radio collared the bear, tagged the bear and thus tracked the bear for any variety of reasons which cost time and money, energy and effort, and then have the bear sited at the end of a gun and destroyed seems both mindless and lacking compassion. If you can site the bear you can see the collar. Nothing seems sacred when it comes to hunters these days. I am fortunate to know people who do not squeeze the trigger when they make an observation outside of the target area. A sad commentary and nothing to laugh about. What example are we setting for our children regarding the shared wonder of the beautiful place we are privileged to live in – our Adirondacks – filled with a majesty of wildlife and natural beauty others cannot even imagine. Humane hunting is a tradition within the Blue Line – not sure that is what Yellow experienced.

    • Jeremy says:

      Ann- If the DEC says it was a legal shot, then it was. Collar/tag or not. I’m sure if there was a law stating that tagged animals are not to be hunted for whatever reason, then they wouldn’t be.

      This hunter did nothing wrong. He even reported his harvest just as he was supposed to by law. There are in deed unethical hunters out there, but they’re in the minority and this clearly isn’t one of them.

  17. Leslie Bailey says:

    Wonderful obit. Great comment dialogue.

  18. Sara says:

    “Mike Lynch says:
    November 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    This blog entry is moronic. I would also recommend that you verify and obtain information on your own, instead of just lifting information from articles you’ve read on the Internet.”

    It’s shocking to me that a journalism “professional” would leave such a nasty and unnecessary comment – this one and the long rant he left farther down. It left quite a bad taste in my mouth. If he was going to be a professional, he should have emailed the author directly if there was something criticism he just had to share. That reflects poorly not only on him but on the ADK Daily Enterprise. In a more metropolitan area one might lose his or her job for something like this.

    • Moose says:

      The story here is a rip off of his. The big diff between here and his paper is the comment section.

      • MG says:

        You are confusing “news story” with “lighthearted obituary”… and it still doesn’t make the way that reporter handled it right or professional.

  19. Jimmy says:

    The killing of this majestic animal is anything but funny. What is it exactly that modern man feels he gains from slaughtering our precious wildlife simply for the opportunity to hang the pelt on the wall. Disgusting. Cowardly. This article…a so calle dlighthearted story… Just adds to the myth that animals were put on this earth to serve human needs. Mr. crane, what do you find humorous about the killing of this smart, old gorgeous wild animal?

    • Paul says:

      Jimmy, I assume you eat something to stay alive. A plant is as majestic (or even more majestic) as a bear. Get off your soap box.

      • Dan Crane says:

        What? Gasp! He’s eaten fetal plants?!? Oh, the plantity!

      • Lily says:

        Paul – If you can’t tell the difference between a plant and an animal, a sentient being, then you have no business here.

        • Paul says:

          don’t like plants I see. They are some of the most amazing organisms I have ever seen or studied. Guess you feel diferently.

      • Dave says:

        I’m sure Paul knows the difference between plants and animals, and is just trolling it up a little.

        If not, we can do a quick high school biology lesson here.

  20. JR says:

    You people are ridiculous.
    The guy shot a black bear from a distance (no ear tags
    where on it). Upon walking up to it, he saw a collar
    and notified DEC. End of Story.

    Unfortunate for both parties, as I’m sure non-hunters didn’t want it killed, and the hunter didn’t want a “famous radio collared bear” that’s had a steady diet of people food. Lose lose. Tell DEC to to afix yellow tags that won’t come off if you’re upset.

  21. Rural_CDN says:

    I’m reminded of Jesse the bear. 🙂

  22. Moose says:

    One thing is certain, DEC Biologists look bad in shorts.

  23. Dan Ladd says:

    A few thoughts on this subject:

    -It’s big game season. Bears are big game and this hunter shot this bear legally and likely with the intention of eating it.

    -It’s doubtful that a bear hunter has any device for tracking a collared bear.

    -The Habitat/Access stamp is just as the term implies. Purchasing a Habitat/Access stamp is an excellent way for the non-hunting community to contribute to projects that benefit all who use the woods. Not just sportsmen and women. Here’s a link:

  24. Amy Murphy says:

    Sorry, but I’m not a fan of so-called “culling”. At 63 years of age, I’m just tired of all the excuses. When I was much younger, I read a book called “Mankind: America’s War on Wildlife” and it changed me forever. And I cannot imagine that we kill “because we can.” This sounds like a stellar bruin, who deserved to be just plain-ol’ LEFT ALONE.

  25. Ann Berwick says:

    What kind of person would kill a bear with tags on her?????

  26. Kent Seely says:

    You people are funny…thanks for the entertainment.
    Currently, many states use the “Ear Tag” method for identifying nuisance bears that exhibit behaviors our “officials” have deemed dangerous or inappropriate to human interaction. In CT, relocation has been abandon in favor of the “Three Strikes Rule”. Any bear earning 3 tags is destroyed. How is this situation handled in NY?

  27. Michael McGuire says:

    Yellow-Yellow was my hostess at flowed lands and my first close-bear-encounter. At first she startled the daylights out of me and sent this city boy scrambling back down the trail with half my gear. Curiosity and sense prevailed and I sneaked back so I could watch this beautiful animal take her evening walk around the various campsites and finally away into her wooded parlor. There were no other campers at flowed lands that night. Me and Yellow – Yellow had the place to ourselves and I was her guest. It was a privilege I’ll always hold dear. Hats off to Her Excellency.

  28. Karen Kelly says:

    Does anyone know the fate of her cubs? Don’t they stay with their mothers for two years? It seems like killing a mama bear pretty much dooms the cubs.

  29. Linda Rebman says:

    What a shame that she was killed!

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