It was a familiar sight at Yellowstone National Park: traffic backed up for miles as visitors fed bears from their cars. It may have been against the rules, but park officials were willing to turn a blind eye if it kept the public happy. But, bear feeding eventually became too widespread and dangerous to everyone - including the bears - for the National Park Service (NPS) to allow it any longer. As one of the park's most beloved and enduring symbols, the Yellowstone bears have long been a flashpoint for controversy. Alice Wondrak Biel traces the evolution of their complex relationship with humans - from the creation of the first staged wildlife viewing areas to the present - and situates that relationship within the broader context of American cultural history. Early on, park bears were largely thought of as performers or surrogate pets and were routinely fed handouts from cars, as well as hotel garbage dumped at park-sanctioned "lunch counters for bears."
Alice Wondrak Biel is a professional writer-editor and winner of awards from the Montana Historical Society and Forest History Society. She lives in Bryce Canyon, Utah.