Monday, September 22, 2008


What does one do to save from extinction a creature as cantankerous and controversial as the grizzly bear? Do grizzlies still live in the North Cascades and what will it take to prevent them from dying out?

Grizzly Wars: The Public Fight Over the Great Bear, slated for publication in early October, examines these and many other questions about the contentious effort to recover grizzly bears in the Cascades and Northern Rockies, where they have been listed under the Endangered Species Act for more than 30 years.

Author David Knibb, a naturalist, lawyer, and author, shuns the role of an advocate to explain the issues. He uses the North Cascades to illustrate many of them -- how recovery areas were picked, states rights, rural and urban conflicts, hiker anxieties, genetic concerns caused by isolation, minimum viable populations, and issues about moving bears from one area to another.

From the Cascades the book broadens to look at national wildlife politics and the five other recovery areas in the Northern Rockies. Knibb examines the key issues in each, including the debate over last year's decision to remove Yellowstone's grizzlies from the list of threatened species. In the process he discusses the critical role of states, the need for links between recovery areas, distinct populations, and cooperation with Canada on bears along the border.

In a separate chapter devoted to Canada, Knibb reviews the status and challenges facing grizzlies in British Columbia and Alberta.

In a foreword, Lance Craighead praises Knibb for reporting on such a controversial topic in a "careful and admirably unbiased" way. The book also earns praise from Doug Peacock, noted bear advocate, Brock Evans, president of the Endangered Species Coalition, and others.

For more description, see the publisher's catalog at:

After mid-October Grizzly Wars will be available in bookstores, or you can order it from Eastern Washington University Press at:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dogs and People working Together to Save Bears

The Wind River Bear Institute (WRBI), together with its Partners-In-Life Program®, is an innovative program that is saving the lives of bears by changing the way they are managed and viewed by wildlife agencies and the public. The goal of this program is to reduce conflicts between humans and bears so the two can coexist in an ever shrinking world.

The WRBI uses knowledge of bear ecology and behavior to find solutions to human-bear conflicts and develop ways to prevent problems in the future. Most conflicts arise from bears getting human foods as well as pet food, livestock feed, bird seed and fruits from orchards. Bears that are habituated to people or are food conditioned are bears that have in most cases lost their fear of people; most attacks on humans have involved bears that were habituated or food conditioned.

Many people feel that “problem” bears should either be relocated or destroyed, but neither of these is a long term solution and both can be expensive and time consuming. Many “problem” bears that have been relocated return to where they were causing problems and end up being killed because the true problem, habituation and/or food conditioning, is not resolved.

Carrie Hunt, Director of the Wind River Bear Institute, developed and implemented what she calls Bear Shepherding®. This bear management technique uses Karelian Bear Dogs to teach bears how to recognize and avoid human boundaries.

Karelian Bear Dogs (KBD) originated in Finland where they were used mainly for hunting. They are extremely intelligent, fearless and have enormous energy making them a perfect match for the Partner’s In Life Program and for bear shepherding. KBD’s are a medium sized black and white dog that is very strong and muscular. They range in weight from 40-70 pounds and are 19-24 inches tall.

“The key components of the WRBI’s “Partners In Life Program” are that it emphasizes concurrent work on-site to teach people correct behaviors to reduce conflicts when living or recreating in bear country AND to rehabilitate and teach ”problem” bears correct behaviors on-site as well, through a non-lethal technique called Bear Shepherding®. This technique utilizes a strict protocol developed by WRBI to condition bears in the wild to modify undesirable behaviors that will lead to the eventual need to euthanize the bear, and as such, is the first of its kind. Bear Shepherding utilizes operant conditioning techniques where the bear learns to associate a human voice yelling “Get Out of Here Bear” with a painful or scary aversive stimulus causing it to leave or fade into cover as a wild bear should.... which teaches bears with problem behaviors to recognize and avoid human boundaries and developed sites. The Shepherding techniques teach the bears to control what happens by making correct choices. For example, when the KBDs “shepherd” a bear into appropriate cover or the bear otherwise leaves an area where it should not be, the Partners-In-Life team removes the “pressure” on the bear by recalling the KBDs. Bears may experience this training at the site of conflict or within areas they naturally inhabit, called their “home range.” This positive approach builds on the way bears operate and learn in the wild and uses their natural recognition of personal space and dominance hierarchies.

Since the Program began in 1996, several hundred bears and other wildlife conflicts have been handled annually by the Programs teams and extended Program “Family” of KBD/Handler teams. There have been no injuries to dogs, bears or handlers; a true testament to the commitment and training of both the WRBI teams and the dogs they work with.

The WRBI placed 2 of their KBD pups for use as Wildlife Service Dogs in Washington State. All dogs and owners are cared for, trained and handled, according to strict WRBI Program protocols to ensure safety and effectiveness for the Service Dog/Handler teams. The two Karelian Bear Dogs working in Washington State are both with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife employees. “Mishka” works with Bruce Richards, Wildlife Law Enforcement Officer, and “Cash” works with Rich Beausoleil, Cougar and Bear Specialist.

Wind River Bear Institute is a 501(c) (3) non-profit corporation that relies on the generous support of private donors who believe in the value of their work.

Posted by Wendy Gardner; GBOP Bear Specialist, Woodland Park Zoo keeper

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Making Interstates More Wildlife Friendly

The fiinal Environmental Impact Statement has been released for the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass Project located outside of Seattle in Washington state. One facet of this project is to make this section of the interstate more wildlife friendly.

For the last few years the Washington State Dept. of Transportation has engaged several groups in the planning process to expand a section of Interstate 90 just east of Snoqualmie Pass. Among the groups has been the I-90 Bridges Coalition, a non-profit group that has spent countless hours setting up remote camera stations and doing winter tracking studies. This information has helped the WaDOT determine where wildlife are crossing this major freeway and where wildlife bridges might be placed for the best use. This has been a landmark project in the collaboration of government agencies and private groups to forward a large project to everyone's benefit.

Wildlife bridges have been proposed or installed over highways in the US, Canada, Slovenia, Germany, France and others. They are found to be well used and benificial to the wildlife and to the safety of drivers. Check out these photos.

For animals, the ability to cross I-90 and move north or south to disperse is criticaly important for all species, but especially those with large ranges like the grizzly bear. An Environmental Impact Statement gathers the best science and details the options for how best to move forward with the project. Several public meetings, at which comments will be recieved, are scheduled for September.

Here are more details:

The I-90 project will improve safety for people and wildlife from Hyak to Easton on the major east-west roadway in Washington State.

Structures for wildlife passage would be built at the 14 major wildlife crossing areas within the project. This will increase safety by reducing collissions between wildlife and vehicles, and help in connecting the wildlife habitat that is currently seperated by the highway.

Wildlife passage will be improved by:

Replacing narrow bridges and culverts with longer, wider bridges and culverts to allow wildlife to move under the highway.

Adding wildlife exclusion fences and other features to keep wildlife off the highway and direct them to safe crossing structures.

Adding 2 vegetated wildlife overpasses at strategic locations to allow animals to move over the highway.

The release of this important document is a key step in the timeline for the project, and signals that construction for the first funded phase will begin soon. The first 5 miles of the project are already funded by funds from the Washington State Legislature, and construction is to begin in 2010. There is no funding to date for the remaining 10 miles of the project, but a wide variety of voices are asking our federal congressional representatives to find funding in the upcoming Highway Reauthorization Bill.

Visit I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition to learn more about the additional funding needs for this project.

Julie L. Hopkins