Monday, December 17, 2007

Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population declines in 2007

This year’s population decline of females with cubs triggers concern among federal biologists. Despite de-listing of the grizzly bears less than a year ago, recovery of the grizzly bear population in Yellowstone National Park is still being watched carefully. For 2007, officials have totaled up to 25 deaths of females over the age of 2 from hunting accidents, management removals and natural causes. For every bear reported, a possible two more went unreported, according to Chuck Schwartz, Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team leader. Overall, the population of 571 bears in Yellowstone is thriving, but a seemingly small loss of young female bears can have a large impact on the population. A loss of 9% of the female population over two years would trigger a review and potential listing of the bears back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Several environmental factors also contributed to the higher mortality this year. Three out of four of the bear’s critical foods were in short supply. Late frosts damaged the berry crops, Deaths of whitebark pine trees due to mountain pine beetles and blister rust meant a lack of pine seeds. There is actually a positive relationship between whitebark pine seed production and grizzly bear birth rates. Cutthroat trout struggle to hold their own against introduced lake trout. Cutthroat populations have declined in some streams from 60,000 in the 1970’s to only 500 this year. Additionally, the mild winter last year meant fewer elk winter-kill carcasses. Only the army cut-worm moth resource seems to be intact this year.

Most bears will look for alternative foods in years like this one. Researchers have been testing the body fat content of the bears since 2000. They are finding bears entering dens at a 30% body fat, which indicates healthy animals, and a healthy environment. Still the lack of natural food sources is cause for worry. One year of high female mortality is not a crisis, but officials will be monitoring the population numbers in the coming year. “Our major concern through all of this is that we don’t allow the bear population to decline because of humans” says Schwartz.

Excerpted from an article by Cole Hatch, Jackson Hole News and Guide, October 31, 2007,
Submitted by Julie Hopkins

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What's happening behind your back?

Have you ever noticed that when you are out walking in the woods you seldom see a lot of wildlife?

A friend who has a cabin in the Teanaway River drainage (near Cle Elum, Washington) wondered about this. So he mounted remote video cameras and captured these images.

Amazing the variety of wildlife he has on his property. Of course he never sees them when he is out and about. What's happening in your backyard when you are not around?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Is this a famously elusive North Cascades grizzly bear?

Photo: This could well be the most recent grizzly bear sighting in the North Cascades. Proving it is another matter. Photo by Pat Lathrop.

Look at the picture above very carefully. You're looking at a family of bears crossing a glacier in the North Cascades mountains in the summer of 2006. But are they black bears or grizzly bears? That's the million dollar question. The picture was submitted to me by Pat Lathrop who, while hiking the Glacier Peak Wilderness came across this amazing site with a friend. As he raised the binoculars to his eyes he knew the significance of what he was witnessing. Without saying a word, he quietly handed his binoculars to his hiking companion and asked, "What do you think they are?". His friend replied, "Wow - it's a family of grizzly bears!". This is how Pat relayed the story to me as we spoke on the phone. He explained that he had been to one of my slide shows several years earlier at REI and that he therefore understood how important a sighting like this was. Pat has seen many bears - both grizzly and black, in other parts of North America, and he was personally "one hundred percent sure" that what he saw that day was a family of grizzly bears crossing the glacier from one valley to the next. When he handed the binoculars to his friend he didn't want to influence his response, so he kept quiet. His friend's reaction only further convinced Pat that this was a very special moment.

The problem is follow-up. How do we prove that these were in fact grizzly bears? Of course the dots on the photograph can't be used for verification, but what about trying to track them in the field? Looking for tracks is one option, but they are extremely tough to find. We can use remotely-triggered cameras, or even hair snags that capture a clump of DNA from the cpat of a passing bear. Even a pile of scat can yield DNA which would tell us if it was left behind by a black or grizzly bear. But when you consider that a female bear and yearlings might cover 200-300 square miles as part of their regular home range, the problems of sighting verification become obvious.

When there are fewer than 20 grizzly bears left in the 10,000 square mile North Cascades ecosystem it is critical that any possible sighting is reported. We receive about 20 reports per year thanks to the very active GBOP field crew who are out there interacting with the public all year round, and thanks also to an online reporting system we've developed. However, my guess is that, on average, about 17 of these 20 sound like black bears that people have confused with grizzly bears (an easy thing to do when you consider that black and grizzly bears can have coats that are anything from blonde to black).

Please spread the word - if you see a North Cascades grizzly bear, let us know! (GBOP sighting report). For MUCH more information about bears in the cascades, go to our website:

Chris Morgan, Bear ecologist, GBOP Director

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Op Ed - Grizzly Recovery In The North Cascades

In the August 2007 issue of Washington Trails, Jonathan Guzzo penned a thoughtful article on preservation and recovery of the grizzly bear and its habitat in the North Cascades. Mr. Guzzo presented questions on the topic and suggested that we get the “conversation started so we can make the best decision for future hikers and this magnificent species.” These are some of my thoughts on the subject.

As to the question of whether or not hikers will be safe in the back country in the presence of a grizzly bear population, I have no doubt that we will continue to be safe. Of course, both the question and answer are a bit loaded in the sense that we are never completely safe when we hike; a myriad of difficulties—from merely problematic to fatal—can arise on a trek, so it is not just the presence of a large animal that raises the issue of safety. In my view, our safety is largely dependant upon our knowledge. The more knowledge is inherent in a thing the greater the understanding and the greater the understanding the greater the safety (with apologies to Paracelsus). Conversely, the less we understand something, the more we tend to fear it, and fear of the grizzly has led to an enormous misunderstanding of the great bear. That misunderstanding and fear began with Lewis & Clark, who did no favor for the grizzly, as their descriptions and accounts of the bear resulted in the scientific name Ursus arctos horribilis (the horrible bear) which was bestowed upon the grizzly by George Ord in 1815. Unfortunately, the Lewis & Clark scientific descriptions of the grizzly were overshadowed by their stories of a “grizzle” bear who, when wounded by gunfire, became angry and assaulted its attacker. From that day to this, the fear-mongering stories about grizzlies have continued unabated. But the horrible bear of George Ord is not the animal described in the insightful books of William H. Wright, Frank Craighead and Doug Peacock. Nor is it the animal I know.

There are a multitude of things we should know and preparations we should make before venturing into the backcountry. For example, the ten essentials are—well—essential. So is the need to know the terrain, weather conditions and wildlife we might encounter. And the grizzly is certainly not the only animal we should be aware of. One recent October I was confronted by a bull elk who, inexplicably, thought I had more than just an observer’s interest in a member of his harem. It wasn’t true, of course, but I knew enough about a bull elk in rut to be prepared for his behavior. The point is this: knowing how to use the medical kit in your backpack is every bit as important as knowing how to conduct yourself in grizzly country. While the chance of even seeing a grizzly in the wild is remote, there is no substitute for informed human behavior if you do. Proper grizzly etiquette can be learned from a number of different sources, including the books alluded to above, but two excellent resources are Lance Olsen’s Field Guide To The Grizzly Bear (1992, Sasquatch Books), and the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project (

Another of Mr. Guzzo’s questions deals with possible loss of trail miles—that is, trail closures “due to bear activity or den emergence.” He suggests that this is likely, and I think he is right about that. I see no reason why the government would deal with grizzlies any different in the North Cascades than it does in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Mostly for liability reasons, I believe, the government tends to err on the side of caution by closing trails quickly upon learning of bear activity. I don’t always agree with it, but I think this is policy. More important, I can accept this as a sort of cost of doing business in and for the wilderness. I can even accept the idea of permanently closed areas, such as those in Denali National Park, in furtherance of grizzly survival and habitat. For me, the presence of the grizzly legitimizes our definition of wilderness, and to know that our wilderness areas are truly wild and being protected by sensible regulation is more important than my presence there.

It has been said that the grizzly bear is the very symbol of American wilderness and I wonder, if the grizzly is removed, do we still have wilderness? I suppose the answer for many people is yes but, even accepting that, it seems to me that our wilderness is diminished with each species removed. And where does removal end? Is the elk next? How about moose? Both elk and moose have killed humans. And rattle snakes—good gracious, let’s get rid of those snakes! Arguably, the removal of creatures that are deemed undesirable for one reason or another is a slippery slope. To me, the grizzly is much more than a symbol. Knowing, when I am in grizzly country, that I am no longer at the top of the food chain is a humbling and wonderful personal experience. But, knowing that the grizzly is out there, especially when I am not, is far more important.

By Mick Tronquet

Editors note: Mick has a great interest in educating the public about grizzly bears in the North Cascades. He will be supporting GBOP through volunteer efforts in the Seattle area where he practices law. Through more of an op-ed piece, the questions raised here are thought provoking and part of the dialog which we as a community must engage in order to address the issue of grizzly recovery. Currently less than 20 grizzly bears live in the North Cascades. A declining number that many biologists deem to low to sustain a viable population over time. What are we as a society to do about this situation? Its a personnal choice that should be based on educated fact, not emotional fiction. We welcome well thought out opinions on this subject. Please submit any entries you would like considered for publishing on the GBOP BLOG to Dennis Ryan.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tis the Hibernate

Laying down for a long winter’s sleep…sounds like a great way to deal with the holiday hustle and bustle. Actually hibernation is a method to deal with the lack of available food in the winter. Bears eat a diet of primarily plants, berries and insects, eating enough to gain 30 lbs. per week. In winter there is not enough food to be found to keep a bear going.

Bears look for a place of safety while they are in this sleeping state from October to April. In fall they will scrape leaves and plant material into a cave, burrow, hollowed out tree or rock crevice as a nest. Sometimes they just make a nest on the surface of the ground. Bears curl into a ball to endure the cold of winter. Dens offer little or no insulating value, and are usually the same temperature as outside the den. The bears heavy winter coat and fat layer do all the insulating. The heavy, rounded shape of a bear provides a low surface area-to-mass ratio that is the key to retaining heat.

Using reserves of fat accumulated over the spring and summer, bears can go over 100 days without eating, drinking, urinating or defecating. Fat breaks down into water and 4000 calories per day. Muscle and organs break down to provide protein, yet they don’t loose any muscle mass. They are later able to rebuild those organs, unlike a starving human. Calcium is efficiently recycled so they experience no bone loss, as inactive people do. Their heart beat goes from 55 to 8 beats per minute. Body temperature drops by 12 degrees. Metabolism drops by half. They sleep deeply, but can wake occasionally although it takes some time; minutes to hours. Smaller hibernators, such as squirrels, bats and marmots wake much more frequently during hibernation than bears.

Grizzly bears have long claws and are known for their skill in digging. They prefer to dig their den into the north slope at high elevation so they get covered by the maximum amount of insulating snow. Black bears have much smaller claws and are not known for their digging skills. They prefer to find a suitable site that only requires remodeling.

Scientists are studying hibernation to aid in several human conditions. We’d like to understand their ability to maintain perfect water balance without drinking for 100 days, or how bears deal with toxic urea building up in the blood stream. There are many implications for patients suffering from kidney disease. Also, bears have double the cholesterol of humans but no hardening of their arteries. There also remains the possibility of inducing human hibernation for transporting wounded soldiers from battlefields, treating the severely burned or preserving organs by inducing hibernation in the organ itself. Obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, kidney and gall bladder problems, muscle-wasting conditions are among the conditions bears could help us to understand. NASA is interested in the implications for long distance space travel.

Mmm, think I might go take a nap…
Submitted by Julie Hayes

GBOP position announcement

GBOP is seeking a Field Coordinator for wildlife education and community outreach.

We are currently seeking candidates for the role of field coordinator in the Highway 2 area. The position will be based in or near to Leavenworth, covering an area from approximately Sultan to Wenatchee.

It is a part time position (2 days per week) coordinating outreach activities of the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project and it's associated Bear Smart Program. Minimum education includes a bachelor’s degree and experience planning and implementing community programs. Pays $19-21/hour incl. depending on experience. Must have dependable transportation (0.45c/mile reimbursed) and must reside in project area. Email resume, letter and references to Chris Morgan.

Monday, November 19, 2007

REI hosts community expo at the new Issaquah store

GBOP and about a dozen community-based organizations were on hand this weekend to help REI welcome customers to the grand opening of the new Issaquah REI store. Over 500 hundred people were lined up and waiting for the doors to open at 9:00 am.

Issaquah is located on the I-90 corridor at the Washington cascade mountain foothills. It’s a fast growing community and many residents enjoy the opportunity to hike trails literally out their back door. Due to the close proximity to wildlife, REI is very supportive in efforts to educate residents about the local ecosystem. Other organizations attending the community expo included the Mountaineers, Washington Outdoor Women, Washington Trails Association and the Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.

Many folks visiting the GBOP table had experienced bears at their homes and observed bears while hiking on the local trails. Everyone wanted information so they could be bear safe and bear smart.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

6 of 8 bear species threatened with extinction

Six of the world's eight species of bear are threatened with extinction, according to a report from the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The smallest species of bear, the sun bear, has been included on the list for the first time, while the giant panda remains endangered, despite comprehensive conservation efforts in China.

The IUCN, which has updated the status of the seven species of terrestrial bear on its Red List of Threatened Species, said despite claims that panda populations were on the rise due to a ban on logging, the creation of panda reserves and reforestation programmes, it still considered the bear to be endangered.

"Quite a bit is now known about the ecology of giant pandas, and substantial work and expense has been aimed at trying to estimate total numbers of these animals. However, these estimates are imprecise and prone to significant error," said David Garshelis, the co-chairman of the IUCN bear specialist group.

"Too much uncertainty exists to justify changing their status to vulnerable. It would be unwise to assume that in less than 10 years under the new habitat improvement policies in China that panda populations could have dramatically increased," he added.

The sun bear, which lives in south-east Asia, Sumatra and Borneo, has been included on the list for the first time, and is classed as vulnerable. It was previously listed as "data deficient" because not enough was known about the species.

The IUCN bear specialist group, which announced its findings after a meeting in Mexico over the weekend, estimates that sun bears have declined by at least 30% over the past 30 years and would "continue to decline at this rate".

"Although we still have a lot to learn about the biology and ecology of this species, we are quite certain that it is in trouble," said Rob Steinmetz, the co-chairman of the IUCN bear specialist group's sun bear expert team.

"Deforestation has reduced both the area and quality of their habitat. Where habitat is now protected, commercial poaching remains a significant threat."

Steinmetz said the IUCN was working with government, protected area managers, conservation groups and local people "to prevent extinctions of the many small, isolated sun bear populations that remain in many parts of south-east Asia."

Bears in Asia and South America are the most in need of urgent conservation action, the IUCN said, with Asiatic black bears, Andean bears (formerly called spectacled bears), and sloth bears all listed as vulnerable.

Sloth bears live on the Indian subcontinent in Sri Lanka, India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, where habitat loss has been severe. They have found sanctuary mainly in the reserves set up to protect tigers. The bear specialist group has indicated this species may have disappeared entirely from Bangladesh.

Threatened existence

The main threat to bears across south-east Asia comes from poaching. Although illegal, poachers are prepared the risk the small chance of being caught against the lucrative gains they can make from sales on the black market.

Prized bear body parts include the gall bladder, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine, and their paw, which is considered to be a delicacy.

Another threat to bear populations comes from living in close proximity to human settlements. Bears are often killed when they prey on livestock or raid crops, or killed when the roam too close to a village because they are seen as a threat to human safety.

"Although the bear population estimates for Asia are not as reliable as we would like, we estimate that bears in south-east Asia are declining at a particularly rapid rate due to extensive loss of forest habitat combined with rampant poaching," said Garshelis.

The polar bear, which has recently become a symbol for climate change and its effect on animals, is listed as vulnerable, but as it is technically a marine mammal it is distinct from the other seven terrestrial bears and has a different specialist group.

Only two bears - the brown bear and the American black bear - were listed as being of "least concern".

Brown bears, the most widespread species, are not listed as being threatened globally because large numbers still live in Russia, Canada, Alaska and some parts of Europe. However, the IUCN said very small, isolated and "highly vulnerable" populations exist in southern Europe and central and southern Asia.

Several brown bear populations are protected under national or provincial laws, while grizzly bears are considered threatened under the US Endangered Species Act everywhere except Alaska.

Only the American black bear is secure throughout its population range, which includes Canada, the US and Mexico. With a population of 900,000, the IUCN said there were more than twice as many black bears than all other species combined. They are legally hunted in most parts of their range.

Bruce McLellan, another co-chairman of the bear specialist group, said: "An enormous amount of effort and funding for conservation and management continues to be directed at bears in North America where their status is relatively favorable.

"It is unfortunate that so little is directed at bears in Asia and South America where the need is extreme. We are trying to change this situation, but success is slow."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007
photo credit Hermann J Knippertz, AP file

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Supplemental Bear Feeding Program

Each spring black bears emerge from their dens hungry and with little available sources of food. During this time, as young conifers approach their annual spring bud burst, there is a high concentration of sapwood moving up the tree just inside the bark. This sapwood is rich in carbohydrates and can be a very attractive food source for hungry bears. The bears rip off the bark to eat the sapwood and in the process they often girdle and kill the trees. Bears can girdle up to 50-70 trees a day, and this loss can create a significant economic impact for forest landowners. By late June or early July there are plenty of natural foods for bears to eat, and generally damage to the young timber ends about this time.

Last month I attended a presentation by Georg Ziegltrum of the Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) at the Department of Natural Resources monthly breakfast meeting. Georg’s presentation was primarily about WFPA’s Black Bear Supplemental Bear Feeding Program, although he also talked about other components of the WFPA’s Animal Damage Control Program, including lethal control efforts.

In 1985 WFPA began the Black Bear Supplemental Feeding Program. In 2006, the Program used a total of 465,700 pounds of bear pellets at 860 feeding stations in Western Washington in an effort to reduce spring black bear damage to young private timberlands. The Black Bear Supplemental Feeding Program feeds black bears at special feeding stations for about 2 ½ months each year to provide a food source during the spring when food sources are limited. Young even-aged stands between 15 and 30 years of age are the most vulnerable to bear damage, and the supplemental feeding program has helped to reduce this damage.

However the Black Bear Supplemental Feeding Program does not prevent all damage to young timber stands. This program is used along with lethal control, in areas with heavy damage, to limit impacts to private forestlands. In 2006, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), in cooperation with WFPA’s Animal Damage Control Program, issued about 190 depredation permits for black bears in areas where there was heavy timber damage on private forestland. Most of the bears are removed by hound hunters, although foot snares and bait are also occasionally used with depredation permits.

Website links of interest:

Washington Forest Protection Association’s (WFPA) Animal Damage Control Program 2006 Annual Report

A 2-page summary of the Black Bear Supplemental Feeding Program

Efficacy of the Black Bear Supplemental Feeding Program in Western WA

Nan Laney
Skagit and Whatcom Coordinator, GBOP

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Meet Cerah, Sun Bear of Borneo

I recently returned from a trip to Malaysian Borneo where we were filming a story for the feature length documentary BEARTREK. The film is about my global adventure to some of the world's wildest places by motorcycle. At each of 6 locations we tell stories about the unusual bear species, and the people who are working for their conservation (more info at:

The island of Borneo is a truly incredible place and our time there was magical - one of life's experiences for sure. As with the North Cascades grizzly bear, sun bears in Borneo represent wilderness. Sun bears need diverse, healthy, tropical rainforest to survive. We think. Actually, very little is known about this super elusive bear species - there are only 2 or 3 sun bear specialists in the world - each of them working in very difficult field conditions with small, highly secretive animals. Among the species that share this tropical ecosystem with sun bears are orangutans, elephants, rhinos, proboscis monkeys, gibbons, and a plethora of birds and insect life. It was a sensory overload, and I have never been anywhere where the presence of bears so clearly represented healthy biodiversity (the reserve where we filmed a sun bear cub is close to being the most biodiverse place in Asia!).

As with almost all of the bear species, grizzly bears and sun bears qualify in three ways to represent the important characteristics of an ecosystem. They are indicator, keystone and umbrella species. Very few animals qualify under all three. Indicator species denote intact, healthy ecosystems; umbrella species need large, wild areas of habitat that incidentally shelter many other species of plants and animals; keystone species play an important functional role in maintaining ecological health. Bears therefore make ideal targets for conservation as they represent the needs of large, wild places that we all depend upon.

Highlights of the trip included tracking and locating 87 wild elephants, observing wild orangutans for hours in the trees above, the warm friendships we developed with local villagers, and of course preparing 'Cerah', a ten month old orphaned sun bear cub for a life in the wild. Our time with her in the rainforest was fascinating, hilarious, and fun.

The photo features BEARTREK conservationist and GBOP Director Chris Morgan with 'Cerah' (pronounced "ChurA", meaning "bright" in Malay) during BEARTREK filming in Borneo. Cerah is a 10 month old orphaned sun bear cub that is being prepared for life in the wild thanks to the work of one of BEARTREK's featured bear biologists, Siew Te Wong.

Chris Morgan
GBOP Director

Monday, October 29, 2007

Hunter Orange Bear Scat! What's going down?

Surprisingly, this bear scat is bright 'hunter orange'. The question is "How did it get to be that color?". Deer season has just ended and there were a lot of hunters cruising the woods. Is there a hunter missing in action?

Closer inspection indicates that this scat is loaded with rose hips. Apparently this bear wanted a full dose of vitamin C before going into the winter den. It has already snowed in the mountains of eastern Washington and has been in the lower 20's at night. We can expect the bears to be settling into their dens any day now.

With luck this bear has put on a lot of weight and will enjoy the winter nap. Bears in other parts of the west have not been so lucky this year. Late freezes, drought and tree infestations in the Rocky Mountain West have diminished the sources of natural food from bugs to berries that the bears eat. Recently they have been hunting for food in all the wrong places, from backcountry campgrounds to suburban kitchens.

In Colorado, bears have burst through the front doors of homes, sauntered into stores and broken into cars. Officials say the number of bears killed by state wildlife officers this year has topped a new record.

Wildlife officers in northwest Wyoming, where luxury housing is crowding into prime bear habitat, are fielding 100 calls a week about bears feasting in fruit trees and snoozing on front lawns. Game wardens have killed twice as many bears this season as they kill in an average year.

In Montana, hungry bears have plowed through dumpsters and grabbed garbage from garages, a pattern Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Captain Sam Sheppard says is unusual for its scope, duration and intensity.

In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where a bear recently lumbered through the open door of a daycare center, officials have plastered neighborhoods with signs urging residents to harvest fruit, remove birdfeeders and "bear-proof" their garbage.

Wildlife officers across Western states have renewed campaigns to stem bear conflicts by retraining humans. Its very important that food and garbage not be left outside in such a way that will attract bears. Keep in mind that next spring, when the bears wake up and sally forth, they will have lost 30% to 40% of their body weight and will be looking for food once again. If you live in bear country please bear proof your home.

We bears thank you.

extracts from a story by Laura Zuckerman, REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
photo credit Dennis Ryan

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Continental Divide Ecosystem Grizzly Estimate

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) -- A study of grizzly bears in and around Glacier National Park estimates 240 of the bears live in a 2 million acre area. This is a 3,125 square mile area.

"It's the first really rigorous population estimate for that area," said Kate Kendall, a West Glacier-based research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who led the study.

The Greater Glacier area includes the 1.1 million-acre national park plus 900,000 acres of surrounding grizzly habitat, including the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and lands west of Glacier to U.S. Highway 93. This arear is also known as the 'Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem'.

Researchers estimated the population by collecting bear hairs in 1998 and 2000 and analyzing the DNA in each strand. The estimate is important because grizzly recovery efforts can't be measured without reliable population figures, Kendall said.

In 1998 and 2000, researchers collected almost 15,000 bear hairs left behind at barbed wire "hair corrals" and natural bear rub trees evenly distributed across the 2 million acres. Individual bears can be identified from their hair because they contain DNA. The hair samples identified 185 unique bears in 1998 and 222 bears in 2000. Researchers used a statistical formula to arrive at the estimate of 240 bears.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bitteroot Bear Followup

The origin of the grizzly bear recently shot by a hunter in the Bitterroot ecosystem of Idaho has been identified by DNA analysis. His trek began in the Selkirk ecosystem and ended over 140 miles later. This amazing feat points out the need to provide habitat corridors between ecosystems. The following associated press article provides the details.

KALISPELL, Mont. -- A grizzly bear accidentally shot and killed by a hunter in north-central Idaho last month likely migrated south from the Selkirk Mountains, crossing two highways and traveling farther than any other bear is known to have moved, federal officials said.

The trip was at least 140 miles as the crow flies, but likely much longer on the ground. "It's absolutely remarkable," said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "I was so shocked that I immediately called the geneticist and said there must be some mistake. But there's no mistake. This bear moved more than twice as far as any other we've seen."

The grizzly bear was shot on Sept. 3 near Kelly Creek, three miles west of the Montana border, west of Superior. A Tennessee hunter mistook it for a black bear. The last time a grizzly bear had been seen in that area was 1946. Servheen had long predicted bears might roam back into that region, a place he calls "excellent grizzly bear habitat." Still, the shooting was a surprise.

Servheen figured the bear had roamed out of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem - an area running from Glacier National park through the Bob Marshall Wilderness - or maybe down from the Cabinet Mountains near Libby. DNA analysis on the bear's tissue determined it was similar to bears in the Selkirk Mountains in northern Idaho. Wildlife managers speculate the bear could have migrated from the Priest Lake region north of Sandpoint, Idaho. That means the bear crossed U.S. Highway 200 and Interstate 90, and traveled at least 140 air miles, who knows how many ground miles. Scientists call bears that really roam "great movers," and they usually travel 60 or 70 miles, Servheen said.

The bear's journey points to the importance of protecting corridors between areas of grizzly bear habitat, Servheen said.
Servheen said the bear did not have a GPS collar, so he doesn't know the precise route the bear took from the Selkirks, why it left its relatively unpopulated home range and why it kept moving through so much perfectly habitable habitat in between. "It would have been so amazing to see where he went and how he got there," Servheen said, "how he crossed I-90."

The location of the 400-pound bear bolsters Servheen's argument that researchers should begin actively looking for more grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Mountains on the Montana-Idaho border. He expects that search will begin next summer, with the use of barbed wire traps to snag hairs from unsuspecting grizzlies.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wenatchee River Salmon Festival

Thousands of people of all ages and cultures come to the Wenatchee River Salmon Festival each year to celebrate the return of the salmon to our northwest rivers. The rivers that are home to the salmon also provide sustenance for birds, frogs, salamanders, foxes, deer, bugs, bears and countless trees, bushes, and flowers. Salmon Fest is an outdoor educational adventure you will not want to miss. Their mission is to "Provide high quality natural resource education, promote outdoor recreation, and share the cultural significance of salmon to the people of the Northwest."

Since 1991 the Wenatchee River Salmon Festival has been hosted by the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery and the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forest, with the help of other "spawnsors" and boosters. This year GBOP was on hand to talk about the relationship between bears and salmon. Julie Hayes spear headed the booth with help from Wendy Gardner and Dennis Ryan.

Clowning around was allowed.

Next year we hope to expand the educational activities for the school children who attend on Thursday and Friday. The Festival website will fill you in on all the details. Plan to join us in '08.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Northwest Passage Opens

Since mankind began exploring the seas in great sailing ships it has been the dream and passion of many captains to find the elusive Northwest Passage. And until this year, a dream it was, for the Northwest Passage has always been ice-bound.

The yellow line shows that the most direct route through the Northwest Passage has opened up fully for the first time since records began, the European Space Agency (ESA) says. An ice-free "Northwest Passage," a shipping route north of the Canadian mainland that could provide a shortcut for transit between the Atlantic and Pacific.

Using satellite data and imagery provided by the ESA, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) now estimates the Arctic ice pack to cover 4.24 million square kilometers (1.63 million square miles) -- equal to just less than half the size of the United States.
That figure is about 20 percent less than the previous all-time low of 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) set in September 2005.

Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at NSIDC, termed the decline astounding. "It's almost an exclamation point on the pronounced ice loss we've seen in the past 30 years," he said. Most researchers had anticipated the complete disappearance of the Arctic ice pack during summer months would happen after the year 2070, he said, but now, "losing summer sea ice cover by 2030 is not unreasonable."

While the loss of sea ice, like the Arctic ice pack, would not contribute to sea level rise, wildlife experts say it could alter the Arctic ecology, threatening polar bears and other mammals and sea life.
Scientists add that an ice-free Arctic could also accelerate global warming, as white-colored ice tends to deflect heat, while darker-colored water would absorb more heat.

But along with concerns, the melting Arctic also raises possible opportunities on business and political fronts. This summer, both Russia and the United States made efforts to inventory the potential mineral wealth on the ocean floor beneath the declining ice pack. Russia also sent a submarine to the North Pole to stake a symbolic claim to the Arctic as a part of the Russian nation.

Photo credit: European Space Agency

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rocky Spencer; in memorial

Rocky Spencer loved animals and in his capacity as the large carnivore specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife he had an opportunity to contribute to the conservation of these magnificent animals. His career came to an end September 8th in a tragic helicopter accident during an effort to relocate bighorn sheep from private property to a Pullman research facility for Washington State University.

Rocky's funeral was well attended by close to a thousand people. There was much said about his skill as a biologist, his dedication to wildlife and his long service to the state. He never got hardened by repeated work with wildlife and treated each animal with care and dignity. He made efforts to involve the public in his work and gave many the opportunity to see and touch wild animals that they never would have had the chance to in their lives. A young man stood up and said because of one of these trips with Rocky he was inspired to go to college and is pursuing a career as a wildlife biologist. I know many others present have felt the same inspiration to be better wildlife stewards if nothing else because of these unique experiences.

He was also a natural teacher, and spoke often with youth and adults about wildlife, especially large carnivores, cougars and bears. Through talks at schools and interviews with the media, he reached a wide audience.

Rocky initiated many programs within the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Foremost, Rocky pioneered the use of dogs in wildlife management with his Karelian bear dog Mishka. He is credited with starting their cougar research program, finding the first nesting loons in the state and , ironically, starting the helicopter program. He worked at WDFW for almost 30 years. There was a huge turnout of current and former employees to honor him.

Chris Morgan, director of GBOP, who knew Rocky well had this to say "This picture was taken while I was out doing bear capture work with him in 1998 in the Tolt River watershed east of Seattle. He's taking an anesthetized black bear back to it's capture location for release.

A warm heart, a caring smile, an easy laugh, and a love for life. There are few people around as special as Rocky. So many people were drawn in by his infectious ways. For me it was ten years ago when I arrived from distant shores to take up bear work in Washington. From moment one Rocky was never anything but kind, open, and giving, and I loved working with him and knowing him as a friend. Words can't do it justice. He will be so missed - professionally and personally - bears and cougars never had a better, more passionate, more sincere advocate. My warm wishes and condolences go to the many, many people whose lives he touched, and especially his family."

Rocky was an avid fisherman, treasure hunt diver, and marathon runner. We will all remember him as a jokester, with an endless sense of humor, a Cheshire grin and that certain twinkle in his eye.

To me he was a friend for 20 years and a mentor in my work as a biologist. We worked together on loon, cougar and elk projects, and most recently on joint bear presentations. He inspires me to continue this work with bears, to honor the fortune I have to be able to work with wildlife and to honor the value of educating people about wildlife and the environment. It was remarkable how many people were touched by his education efforts. They are far reaching, and enduring. I think we should all take what we do with more pride and value, and know that it is important and worthwhile.

You can click here to read what other people wrote about Rocky.

Julie L. (Hayes) Hopkins, GBOP Field Coordinator
Marine and Wildlife Biologist
Threatened and Endangered Species Specialist

Selway-Bitteroot Grizzly

Federal and state wildlife officials are investigating the killing of a grizzly bear in north-central Idaho, where the last confirmed sighting of the species was in 1946. That is over sixty years ago.

A hunter, from Tennessee, was on a guided trip hunting black bear with bait and killed the grizzly bear on Monday, September 3rd near Kelly Creek about three miles from the Montana border. Black bear hunting season opened Aug. 30.

The male grizzly weighed 400 to 500 pounds and was 6 to 8 years old. The hunter and guide skinned the carcass and brought it out on horseback so it could be confirmed as a grizzly by authorities. It is now in the possession of state fish and game department.

The bear killed was in the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem that includes part of north-central Idaho and western Montana, and where wildlife officials have been expecting grizzly bears to repopulate on their own. The Selway-Bitteroot area is one of six recovery zones for grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. Prior to this sighting, no grizzlies were thought to be in the Selway-Bitteroot recovery zone.

The bear possibly came from the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem in western Montana or the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem that includes Glacier National Park. DNA tests are planned to try and determine the bear's origin.

Fish and Game officials had been telling black bear hunters that there were no grizzly bears in the area. He said hunters are now being warned that grizzlies are in the area, and that they are not legal to hunt.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Grizzlies are sniffing champs of the wild

A run-of-the-mill dog's sense of smell is roughly 100 times greater than a human's. A good hound dog's nose is perhaps 300 times better.

Dr. George Stevenson, a former neurosurgeon who specializes in bear physiology, has found that a bear's scent system is at least seven times better than the hounds. “A polar bear will walk 100 miles in a straight line to reach a female ready to breed,” he said. “That's what the bear's nose can do. They smell a million times better than we do.”

When humans think about their hometowns, they think in terms of visual maps - down this street to that avenue, turn left at the bank, right at the stoplight. But bears don't see things that way. To get to their favorite huckleberry patch, they don't follow the trail to the tree with the broken limb, and then turn left at the big mossy rock.

“No, they have an olfactory map.” Take the scent of the trail to the smell of the anthill, then follow the smell of water to the perfume of huckleberries. It is difficult, Stevenson said, for humans to imagine such a way of knowing, but for bears it's essential.

Each spring, when they emerge from the den, they are literally starving. There's no time to wander around and look for food, to look for tracks in the snow and to follow them, perhaps, to a protein meal. “They have to smell food over huge distances, and then go straight to it,” Stevenson said. “If they can't, they die.”

The black pad on the bear's snout, like a dog's nose, is wired with hundreds upon hundreds of tiny muscles. Bears can manipulate their nostrils the way dexterous people control their nimble fingers.

The smells then travel up the two 9-inch snout channels, with hundreds of times the surface area of a human's nose, to a spot where 10 million nerve strands and a billion receptor cells fire electrical signals directly into the brain. The large hippocampus in the bear’s brain “remembers” the scent, adding it to the mental map that the bear uses to “see” the world.

Stevenson was a neurosurgeon from 1965 until 1993, a pioneer of micro-neuro surgery. These days, he lives near Yellowstone National Park and is affiliated with the University of Wyoming.

Excerpts from an article of the ‘Missoulian’ by MICHAEL JAMISON

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fishing Buddies?

Not often does one find a Brown (aka Grizzly) Bear and a wolf fishing across from each other on the same river. These amazing shots of a wolf fishing in the interior of Katmai National Park were taken at Brooks River Falls.

Photo credit: Paul Stinsa.

Giving Voice to Bear

The role of the bear has always been prominent in American Indian initiation and healing ceremonies, in shamanic rites, in the quest for guardian spirits, and in many dances.

This photo is of a Bear Ceremony by northern Paiute people taken in 1967 at Jamestown, California.

All across North America, Indians have honored bears. When hunting tribes killed one, they spoke to its spirit asking it for forgiveness. They treated the carcass reverently. Among these tribes the ritual for a slain bear was more elaborate than that for any other animal. Bears were both feared and respected. They were famous for their fierce maternal devotion. They ate many of the same foods as the Native Americans. Because the Indian identified with the bear in many ways, they imitated it in their rituals.

Archival slide courtesy of: Adan E. Treganza Anthropology Museum, Dept of Anthropology San Francisco State University. Reference: “Giving Voice To Bear” by David Rockwell, Roberts Rinehart 1991.

Roads are NOT 'A Bears Best Friend'

The building of new roads in wilderness areas are a major threat to the conservation of bear habitat. Montana Forest Service and Environmental groups have found a compromise on fire safety plans and grizzly habitat.

In a court ruling July 30, 2007, a judge upheld a motion for protecting grizzly bear habitat by restricting the building of new roads in an area proposed for timber removal to reduce fire danger on the Gallatin National Forest. At the same time the judge allowed 2500 acres of trees to be removed to reduce fire danger and enhance escape routes for residents. Fast burning pine trees will be harvested and replaced with less-flammable aspen trees along the Boulder River. Judge Donald Molloy restricted road building for harvesting timber within 1000 acres of prime grizzly bear habitat.

Forest Service Ranger Bill Avey said they were “real happy” with the ruling. Michael Garrity with Native Ecosystems Council and Alliance for the Wild Rockies said the ruling upheld the goals of prime conservation areas for grizzly bears by restricting road building. The ruling will have far reaching effects for road building in grizzly bear habitat throughout north western states.

Source: Great Falls Tribune 7/31/07

Submitted by Julie L. (Hayes) Hopkins

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Brother Bear sends Thanks

It’s Sienna’s Birthday. Instead of getting presents she has asked all of her friends to make a donation to the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project. She is three years old and is having a Brother Bear Birthday theme.

We bears hope you have the best birthday ever Sienna.

photo (c) Matthew Felton.

Keepin 'em Wild

40 Concrete Elementary School students submitted entries for the Upper Skagit Bear Smart Poster Contest. There were so many creative and colorful posters to choose from that it was apparent that everyone was a winner. Entries were received from the K-3 students and from Grades 4-6.

Here are some examples of posters that received awards. In the Grade 4-6 category was Madeline Corn, Spencer Hindsley and Cheyenne Gracey. K-3 entries included posters from Mindy Sutton, Haley McNealey and Emma Reidel.

The contest was organized and overseen by a community group lead by GBOP staffer Nan Laney.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Wild Bee Swarm

We all know that bears like honey. Winnie the Pooh was addicted to the stuff. Bears get their honey from wild bee hives or by raiding a bee keepers’ hive. Bee keepers can protect their hives from bears by surrounding them with electric fencing.

Wild bees live in hollow trees. From time to time the queen bee decides to relocate the hive. She takes off in search of a new home and all the bees follow her. When she stops the hive swarms around the queen to protect her. The above photo was taken at a camp site in Pearrygin Lake State Park near Winthrop in the Methow Valley. Fortunately no bears were following this swarm. When bees are swarming they do not sting and can be approached without fear.

A local bee keeper was called in by the park ranger to remove the hive. He placed a box below the swarm and shook the tree causing the queen to fall onto the top of the box. All the other bees followed her into the box. The bees had a new home and the keeper got a new hive.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

6th Graders, Bears and Camp

What do these three things have in common? Why Camp ‘D’ of course. For over 50 years the sixth grade class at Omak middle school has spent a week at Camp Disautel in the forests of the Colville Reservation. For the first time the 6th graders at the Paschal Sherman Indian School attended the camp.

It’s not all fun and games. They spend a lot of time attending seminars to learn about stewardship of the environment. Issues explored include water conservation, soil management, wilderness safety and survival skills, creating a ‘Leave No Trace’ camp and ‘yuk’- noxious weeds. Last but not least they learn about bears of the North Cascade Ecosystem.

Bears use to be common visitors at the camp before attention was placed on removing garbage daily. There were some pretty exciting moments when bears walked thru the camp to raid the lunch leftovers.

Virginia Hammer involved all the kids in a skit to show how ‘not’ to set up a camp in the woods. She is a back country ranger for the Okanogan National Forrest. One student dressed as a bear and raided the campsite at night. The campers wished they had not left food in their tent.

Many past 6th graders who are now adults remember Camp ‘D’ as one of the highlights of their school experiences. Many thanks to Randy Langseth and the other teachers for inviting GBOP to this year’s camp.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hillspring Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre Released 4 Grizzly Cubs-Dawon Creek, BC

Following is an extract from a website update written by Barb Murray at

History was ‘officially’ made on Weds, May 16, 2007! A North American bear rehabilitor, Leona Green, has successfully raised 4 orphaned grizzly cubs (2 female), taking them from 15-20lbs in July ‘06 to their release weight of well in excess of 100lbs. The bigger size for their age class will give the cub’s a fighting chance with preditory carnivores. The cub’s diet consisted of high protein from donated venison and salmon, grains, veggies and fruit ( including natural berries previously picked and frozen). Leona Green has raised and released two female grizzlies in 1996 but they were not officially counted by the authorities at that time.

Grizzly bear rehabilitation is done in other parts of the world like Russia and Romania but North American authorities have been shy to embrace it for ‘liablity’ reasons ( I believe?). Thanks to some progressive and compassionate Conservation Officers in Northern BC Leona Green was able to help give these four cubs plus two black bears a second chance this year. She has now rehabbed over 100 bears successfully over 30years (not one of the bears have shown up and caused problems).

Girl Scout's become Bear Aware

On a cool weekend in April, a hardy bunch of Girl Scouts (250 of them) gathered in Carnation, WA for their annual encampment event. They built rain shelters, canoed the lake, created works of art and performed skits around the campfire. A highlight was the retiring of an American flag in a special ceremony.

GBOP’s own Julie Hayes lead forest nature hikes for the Brownies, the Junior campers and their parents. Bear safety and biology were on topic, and many thoughtful questions were asked by campers and parents alike. As it turns out, many of the families had experienced some bear activity (mostly in garbage cans) in their neighborhoods. GBOP brochures packed full of useful information on safe camping, hiking and home sanitation were passed out to extend the learning at home.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bear Affair Weekend

Woodland Park Zoo and GBOP hosted what is quickly becoming an annual event anticipated by both patrons of the zoo and the bears that live there. Keema and Denali, both 950 pound Brown (Grizzly) Bears put on quite a show. With donated equipment from REI, the zoo staff, GBOP and invited members of the public set up a campsite in the bear compound. Everything was done incorrectly to demonstrate what bears can do to your camp if you leave food nearby or worse yet, in your tent.

The bears went thru the camp systematically looking for and finding all of the hidden treats.

In about the same time as it takes to set up camp, the bears had completely demolished everything. People watching the camp destruction quickly understood the value of setting up a proper camp.

Over 2,000 people visited the Bear Affair activities. Everyone enjoyed themselves, but no one had as much fun as Keema and Denali. You can check out a You Tube video of the event at

The GBOP website has lots of tips for living and camping in bear country:

Photo credits by Dennis Ryan and Wendy Gardner

Back Country Horsemen Spring Ride

Each spring members of the Back Country Horsemen of Washington get together at Beaver Creek campground in the Methow Valley to spend a weekend of riding, socializing and general togetherness. This year was no exception. Over 300 folks camped out and had a great time. The official Saturday ride attracted 270 horses and their riders for an eleven mile round trip. A stop at the midway point allowed horses to rest and riders to enjoy a catered steak dinner hosted by the Methow Chapter of the BCH. There are 36 chapters with over 3,000 members in Washington State.

After the ride the care of the horses are the top priority. Kids learn this at an early age. The event was also an opportunity for GBOP to hand out material and discuss bear safety in the back country. If you spend much time in the woods you are likely to encounter bears sooner or later. Back Country Horsepeople share the wilderness that bears call home. The proper safety tips can mean the difference between a fun bear experience and a person-bear conflict.

Looking back on the weekend most of use can't wait till next year.

First Tuesday Presentation

The Methow Conservancy invited GBOP to give a presentation entitled "Bears of the North Cascades and Beyond" at their April First Tuesday event held at the Twisp River Pub. The house was packed as the lights went down and Mary Kiesau introduced Chris Morgan and Dennis Ryan from GBOP.

Chris shared his experiences traveling the world to study bears. From Norway to the Andes, Pakistan to the Rocky Mountains, the audience took a virtual tour of the global state that bears find themselves in today's gloal warming trend.

Dennis followed that act up with a discussion of bears of the North Cascade Ecosystem. Do they indeed exist? What are their numbers, habits and habitat? How can this habitat be protected and the declining number of North Cascade Grizzlies be recovered to a viable population?

A hearty discussion followed the presentation. Obvisouly the public was informed and intested in the plight of Washington's bear population. Many thanks to the Methow Conservancy for hosting the presentation.

Wildlife Highway Crossings

Hidden cameras let you spy on animals as they go about their business.

Dr. Tony Clevenger of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University has research video cameras that record the passage of a variety of large mammals using Banff National Park’s wildlife crossing structures under the TransCanada Highway. To view video clips of grizzly bear, black bear, mountain lion, elk and deer go to this website:

The Washington Department of Transportation has future plans to build wildlife under passes on I-90 in the North Cascades area.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

REI bear hugs GBOP

Yes, REI has embraced GBOP. Over 140 people gathered at REI recently to listen to a presentation by Chris Morgan, co-director of GBOP.

Chris has traveled the world in search of Brown Bears (aka Grizzly Bears) and the study of the habitats in which they live. His slide show was a virtual feast of wild bears in wild places. From Spitsbergen to Spain, Canada to Russia, bears rule the wilderness. Yet, without exception their habitats are threatened by development and encroachment. Looming on the horizon is the mother of all threats – GLOBAL WARMING. In Spain the bears are not hibernating. In the artic bears rely on sea ice to hunt their major source of food, the seal, and this ice is receding further and further north with each passing year. Soon the sea ice is predicted to disappear entirely in the summer months.

Thinking globally and acting locally has never been more relevant. In the North Cascades ecosystem grizzly bears have declined to the point that less than 20 survive. This is not a population that is likely to survive without help. The North Cascades was designated a grizzly bear recovery zone in 1983 by the US Department of Fish and Wildlife. After the presentation, the audience had many questions concerning recovery plans for North Cascade grizzlies.

GBOP thanks REI for their support in our continuing education programs and for their sponsorship of bear awareness weekends. Mark your calendar for April 21 and 22 to join us at the Woodland Park Zoo where the resident brown bears will be the center of attraction.

Photo credit Dennis Ryan

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

No rest for the weary

Did you know that bears are an umbrella species? The health of a bear population is a reflection of the health of the ecosystem in which they live. Did you know that bears hibernate throughout the winter? Talk about a good nights sleep! Did you know that bears have stopped hibernating in the mountains of northern Spain? This may be one of the strongest signals yet of how much climate change is affecting the natural world.

In a December in which bumblebees, butterflies and even swallows have been on the wing in Britain, European brown bears have been lumbering through the forests of Spain's Cantabrian mountains, when normally they would already be in their long, annual sleep.

Bears are supposed to slumber throughout the winter, slowing their body rhythms to a minimum and drawing on stored resources, because frozen weather makes food too scarce to find. The barely breathing creatures can lose up to 40 per cent of their body weight before warmer springtime weather rouses them back to life.

Please Click here to read the complete article.

Why do we care about sleeping bears? Besides the fact that we might globally warm ourselves right out of existence, unlocking the secrets of hibernating grizzlies may help people live longer and stay healthier.

Mike Stark writes in the Billings Gazette that researchers for years have been trying to understand how the bears survive such a long, slothful period without suffering lasting ill effects.

In particular, scientists are looking at what the napping bears can teach about staving off heart disease, extending the viability of transplant organs and maintaining muscle tone in bedridden patients or astronauts in space.

Much of the research is happening at Washington State University, where 10 captive grizzly bears, some of them from the Northern Rockies, are studied year-round.