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November 23, 2012

Yellow Yellow was one smart bear

The Daily Star

---- — There have been a handful of memorable bears over the years.

We all remember the honey-loving Winnie the Pooh. There’s also Smokey the Bear, who became the spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Bart the Bear was a 1,500-pound Alaskan brown bear that starred in Hollywood films such as The Edge and Legends of the Fall.

Walt Disney made Baloo famous in its rendition of Kipling’s The Jungle Book. And who could forget Yogi Bear? You know, the famous raider of pic-a-nic baskets.

There’s another one we should remember, though.

Yellow Yellow was a very smart bear that lived out of hikers’ backpacks in the Adirondacks for nearly two decades. Many wilderness travelers lost their provisions to her over the years. Being that most people have a natural fear of bears, it was easy for the bears of the High Peaks to wander into a camp and pilfer what they wanted. Those black, furry creatures never feared hikers and campers. Instead, the bears viewed them as an easy source of food.

Backpackers hung their food in trees for quite a while, but black bears have no trouble negotiating the tallest of timber. So they tried hanging food bags on a rope suspended between two trees. But it didn’t take long before the bears figured out a piece of white, nylon rope meant a free meal. So they tried black rope, hoping the bears wouldn’t notice. Ha! That only worked for a very short time.

Finally, someone invented the bear canister — a hard, plastic container that was supposed to be bear proof. Many such devices have come and gone because they didn’t work very well. Sooner or later, the bears learned how to open most of them. Maybe these bears learned by staying just far enough back in the woods to watch unsuspecting campers open those canisters. Or maybe there were some that were like Yogi — “smarter than the average bear.”

Well, Yellow Yellow — she has a yellow, plastic tag in each ear — was the smartest one in the Adirondack High Peaks. Almost every backpacker who hiked near Marcy Dam on the way to Mount Marcy knew and respected her.

Yellow Yellow was not aggressive, but she was well-fed. She also was the first bear to open the famous Bear Vault — a canister that was supposed to be totally bear proof. The makers of the Bear Vault actually traveled to the Adirondacks to have her test the product. She was that smart and that well-known.

I had planned on hiking to Mount Marcy last September, but the weather changed my plans. I told my friend George that I really hoped we would see Yellow Yellow.

Well, now it’s too late. That 20-year-old female bear, who taught many of her cubs how to steal food from hikers, was legally taken by a hunter Oct. 21 in the Town of Jay.

I was saddened to read her obituary in the Adirondack Almanac the other day. Dan Crane did a wonderful job paying homage to such a great and unique animal of the wilds. I may not have seen her in person, but I knew of her fame and her ingenuity. She may never have stolen my dinner, but I would have gladly shared it with her.

Maybe the bear that entered my lean-to and enjoyed part of my steak on Moose Pond a few years ago is one of her offspring. After all, it’s only a few short miles over the mountains.

Yellow Yellow will truly be missed by those who knew her over the years. I just wish I had been one of them.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at