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