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.