Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Grizzly - symbol of freedom

“Alive, the grizzly is a symbol of freedom
and understanding – a sign that man can
learn to conserve what is left of the earth.

Extinct, it will be another fading testimony
to things man should have learned more
about but was too preoccupied with himself
to notice.

In its beleaguered condition,
it is above all a symbol of what man is
doing to the entire planet.

If we can learn from these experiences,
and learn rationally, both the grizzly
and man may have a chance.”

Frank C. Craighead Jr.

Frank Craighead, Jr., one of the fathers of grizzly bear research in the US, was honored this last summer by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee for excellence in research and leadership in advancing grizzly bear recovery. He is noted for being one of the first to employ radio collar technology and for his publications, among them "Track of the Grizzly" and Petersons Field guides and numerours documentary films. Frank passed away in 2001, at the age of 85.

Julie L. Hopkins
photo: grizzly on katmai shore

Return of the Mexican Grizzly Bear?

The Mexican grizzly bear - Ursus arctos nelsoni: these bears were reported to be abundant in northern Mexico in the early 1900’s. There were numerous bears in the states of Baja, Sonora and Chihuahua. This subspecies of brown bear also occurred in the United States in New Mexico and Arizona. The last confirmed sightings in Mexico were in the Sierra del Nido Mountains (central Chihuahua) in the late 1950’s. There were reports of grizzly bear poisonings in the same area as late as the winter of 1964.

In May 1980, a research study was conducted as part of informal cooperative agreement between the US and Mexican governments. It revealed sufficient food and secluded habitat for grizzly bears to exist undetected.

This study yielded large tracks with blunt tipped claws, large (50 kg) overturned rocks, and a 25 minute observation of what the expert crew determined to be a grizzly bear. Jonkel (1980) concluded that due to the abundant food, isolated habitat, wariness of the bears and the grizzly bears ability to survive at low population levels, grizzly bears may still exist in Mexico.

At that time, about 20 year after the last reports of grizzlies, they could still be part of a surviving population, given the 20-25 year life span of bears. Could they still be persisting in Mexico today, 30 years later?

No one can answer that for sure. Although the official line is that “a few brown bears may still exist”. There is little or no money for national parks and reserves in Mexico. So land is set aside privately, sometimes in large tracts. In areas of privately protected land in Mexico there is talk of re-introducing the grizzly bear, Mexican wolf and bison. It’s been done for bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope. And decades ago local ranchers decided to stop killing black bears and protect them instead. Black bear populations have since rebounded.

Could we see grizzly bears living in the southern end of their range? It remains a possibility. Then there is the talk of re-introducing them back into their former range in New Mexico…


Julie L. Hopkins
Photo credit: Jan van der Crabben

Monday, November 10, 2008

Grizzly Mountain Roadsign

I ran across this road sign across from Grizzly Mountain on a trip through the North Cascades recently. I was on my way to Montana on my motorcycle, traversing some of the most beautiful wild areas in North America, on my way to a grizzly bear management meeting near Missoula. I've passed the Highway 20 road sign near Mazama on many occasions during my work with GBOP, but this time I was compelled to stop and take a picture. It's a strange thing to think that these mountains once supported a healthy population of North Cascades grizzly bears. Trapping records show that there were once probably hundreds, if not thousands of grizzly bears in this region. In fact almost 4000 hides were shipped out of the region over a 30 year period in the late 1800s. Now fewer than 20 North Cascades grizzly bears remain - in an area covering 10,000 square miles. Interestingly, the last legally killed grizzly bear was shot less than 25 miles from this road sign in the late 60's.

But times are changing. From what we have heard over the last 5 years of GBOP, it's clear that the people of Washington really do support the idea of grizzly bears returning to this ecosystem. Just about everyone we speak to across the Cascades agrees that there is room for both humans and grizzly bears on this landscape. Our most recent research shows that 79% of people "support recovery" - 54% of them "strongly".

In addition, 82% of respondents thought that the grizzly is a symbol of the American frontier and that it should be preserved as part of our national heritage. I think about that tone in a week that has been very patriotic, and it seems fitting that most people in this amazing state want to see a future for grizzly bears beyond a name on a road sign, or the peak of a mountain.

Submitted by Chris Morgan, GBOP Director

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Intestines, the Bear Facts

Many people have seen bear scat; whether it is in pictures, at a zoo or in the wild, it is usually very apparent what the bear had been eating. So how does the food get from one end of the bear to the other?

The teeth start the breakdown process of the food the bear eats. They use their teeth to hold, tear and grind food before swallowing it.

Bears have 42 teeth, except for the sloth bear that only has 40. Humans have 32 teeth.

The dental formula is:
I=3/3, C=1/1, P=3/3,M=1/2 total teeth =42

Bears are omnivores that have relatively unspecialized digestive systems similar to those of carnivores. The primary difference is that bears have an elongated digestive tract; an adaptation that allows bears more efficient digestion of vegetation than other carnivores (Herrero 1985). Unlike ruminants, bears do not have a cecum and can only poorly digest the structural components of plants (Mealey 1975). To compensate for inefficient digestion of cellulose, bears maximize the quality of vegetal food items ingested, typically foraging for plants in phenological stages of highest nutrient availability and digestibility (Herrero 1985).

It is thought that the barrel shape of the bear’s body is an indication of a long intestine. Brown bears do have a longer intestinal length than that of a black bear.

Different foods take varying amounts of time to pass through the body. Meat takes about 13 hours while clover takes about 7 hours (Pritchard and Robbins, 1990). Berry seeds pass through unbroken and are able to geminate making bear’s great seed dispersers. Nutrients are also put back into the environment as the feces break down.

These are just two reasons bears are very important to the health of the environment.

Wendy Gardner, GBOP Bear Specialist
photo credit: Dennis Ryan, person belonging to the hat was not eaten
graphic credit:(Clemens 1980; Stevens & Hume 1995)