Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Documentary on the life of Charles Jonkel

The Great Bear Foundation, Salish Kootenai College Media, and Ursus International are pleased to announce the launching of a documentary film on the life and work of Dr. Charles Jonkel, a patriarch of bear biology, and one of the most interesting, inspiring characters of our time.

Charles Jonkel has devoted his life to the study and conservation of wild bears and their habitat. A pioneer of bear biology, Jonkel was one of the first four researchers to study black bears in the field after the invention of the dart gun. With his successful work on black bears, the Canadian government sought him out to lead their groundbreaking research on polar bears, one of the first field studies ever conducted on wild polar bears.

In his eight years in the Arctic, Jonkel compiled the first reliable, comprehensive scientific database on wild polar bears. He developed the concept that polar bears make up distinct subpopulations that inhabit specific areas, disproving Peder Pedersen’s theory that the world’s polar bears consist of one population, traveling around the entire circumpolar region. Realizing the cultural importance of the polar bear hunt to Native people and its vital place in their subsistence lifestyle, Jonkel fought for and secured Native hunting rights in Canada. The quota system that he developed to manage polar bear hunting combined Inuit traditional knowledge, or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, with western science to determine the total number of allowable kills from year to year and. He and others set up the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), creating a framework for cooperation among the five countries with polar bear populations. This group became the model for all IUCN specialist groups. Charles Jonkel has worked in more areas of the Arctic than anyone else alive.

After nearly a decade working on polar bears, Dr. Jonkel returned to Montana where he taught wildlife biology at the University of Montana. His Border Grizzly Project was one of the most comprehensive studies of grizzly bears and their habitat requirements ever conducted. It helped to shape habitat, quota systems, and forest management policies in the West and to establish a better understanding of cumulative human impacts on grizzly bears. For the first time, policymakers and biologists were forced to examine the cumulative effects of all human activities and all other impacts on wildlife, rather than just the immediate, direct impacts of a specific project. Jonkel went on to direct research on aversive conditioning, testing the effects of potential bear repellants on black and grizzly bears.

While Jonkel is considered a father of bear biology, his influence extends far beyond the scientific community. Studying polar bears, he fell in love with the Arctic and became a champion of this little known northern world and the people and wildlife that inhabit it. Decades later, Jonkel continues his crusade to teach people about the Arctic, its beauty, and the threats that face the region today. As President and Scientific Adviser of the Great Bear Foundation, Jonkel devotes much of his time to educating the public about the world’s eight species of bears, their ecology, and the need to preserve their habitat.

Few people, if any, have done as much for bears as Dr. Jonkel. The Great Bear Foundation is seeking support for this effort - for more information visit their site.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nan Laney relocates to California

I’m in the midst of a move back to Northern California after 21 years of living and working in Northwest Washington. It’s been raining here continuously for 10 days, and while the vegetation outside my home office is different enough to cause me to take pause and notice -- oaks, redwoods, bay laurel, manzanita and madrones –– the weather has been highly reminiscent of Western Washington. So much for sunny California!

I recently picked up the book, California Grizzly, by Tracy Storer and Lloyd Tevis Jr, published originally in 1955. I’ve always been curious about the history of grizzly bears in California, in part because of the constant reminder of their former presence on the State’s flag.

It’s estimated that there were 10,000 grizzly bears in California. Nearly all the state was traversed by grizzly bears -- from the Trinity Range to the Modoc Plateau at the northern end of the state, the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, the Sierra, San Jacinto and San Bernadino Mountain Ranges, the coastal areas and coast ranges, and spanning south into San Diego County and across the border into Mexico. Only the deserts were uninhabited.

The story of the reduction in numbers and extirpation of grizzly bears in California is not dissimilar from their trajectory in other parts of their range in lower 48 states, Canada and Alaska, and on other continents. Almost everywhere grizzlies have existed they have been pushed out of their ideal habitats in more open country, where food sources are plentiful, to the mountains that are less desirable to humans for development, and for growing crops and livestock. As European human presence increased in California, a marked increase in grizzly bears were killed, and numbers were greatly reduced. By the 1880s grizzlies were nearly extirpated from California’s lowlands and were found primarily in the hilly and mountainous areas of the state. The last grizzlies were eradicated from the state in the 1920s.

Native Americans in California did not keep written records of grizzly bear interactions. However bears occupy an important place in Native American cultural and spiritual identity, spanning thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The first written documentation of the presence of the bears are found in the journals of the early Spanish explorers. In 1769, at the site of San Luis Obispo, the Portola expedition saw “troops of bears” and found the land excavated where the animals had been grubbing for roots. The records of John Bidwell document seeing 16 grizzly bears in one “drove” in the Sacramento Valley in 1841, and stated that “grizzly bear were almost an hourly sight, in the vicinity of the streams, and it was not uncommon to see thirty to forty a day.”

The history of grizzly bears in California is punctuated by the influence of the Spanish explorers who lassoed and killed grizzlies for sport using their lariats, or reatas made of four-strand rawhide, from the backs of their horses. The Spanish also staged fights between grizzlies and bulls during fiestas and on feast days at the missions and presidios. Bear and bull fights were a carry-over from the same practices in Spain, and these staged fights drew attendees from great distances.

I’m living at the moment in the far southwest corner of Lake County, about 10 miles from the Mendocino and Sonoma County lines and just a few miles further from the Napa County line. About 30 miles northwest of here, near the tiny town of Boonville, where in 1988 I student taught while attending graduate school at UC Davis, is a peak named Grizzly Peak. And about 15 miles northeast of here, not too far from Clear Lake, in a scattered oak woodland area baked by the blazing summer sun, is another Grizzly Peak. The grizzly’s name marks nearly 200 place names designating topographic features, waters and settlements in California.

The last chapter of the book addresses the role of the grizzly bear as an emblem of California’s early history and exploration. It’s hard to miss the bear’s presence on the California State flag, and I’m always struck by the irony of the fact that grizzly bears are now extirpated from a state that displays the bear so prominently on it’s flag.

I’ve enjoyed my time working with the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project. It has been an enriching experience for me and I hope that my efforts have helped to support increased awareness and knowledge of bears and other wildlife species, as well as ways that we can all successfully coexist in a respectful way with our wild neighbors.

Nan Laney, GBOP
Skagit, Whatcom and Northern Snohomish Field Coordinator

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Feeding Wildlife In Winter

If you are like me, you got yet another couple inches of snow last night. Many of us worry how the wild animals are doing with the unusual amount of snow we have had this winter. According to many experts, including the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, feeding wildlife in winter does us more good than them.

Many people, myself included, consider the seed they put out for birds to be crucial food to get them through the winter. On the contrary, only about 1/5 of a birds winter diet comes from bird feeders. Some feeders can even do more harm than good if they are not cleaned regularly and are spreading diseases. The best things we can do are to provide high quality habitat full of natural foods. If you love the interaction of watching the birds and still want to feed them be sure to keep the feeders clean and check them daily for wet or molding feed, and place feeders away from hiding cover for cats. Or, provide seed and water just during particularly bad weather.

Experts in Cornell University Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch, which collects winter bird feeder use data from volunteers across the country, say most bird feeding does neither significant good nor significant damage. It's something we do for ourselves. But it's a great educational opportunity for us.

If you have thought about feeding the deer or elk consider these potential problems:
- Concentrating deer and elk at a feeder can create problems by making the animals more vulnerable to disease, predation and poaching.

- Inviting deer into your yard could, in turn, invite the deer's predator, cougars, into your area also.

- If feeding areas draw animals across well-traveled roads, they are more likely to present a safety hazard and be hit by motor vehicles.

- Deer and elk drawn to artificial feed also can damage nearby agricultural areas, trees, or landscaping, especially if the artificial feed supply is not maintained through the winter.

In addition, the type of feed can make a life or death difference for deer and elk. If you put out grains their digestive systems can't digest, they will eat themselves silly, while starving. Deer and elk need the proper kind of bacteria in their gut to digest specific types of food. If they are used to eating browse (winter twigs, shrubs, forbs) they won't have the ability to digest grains until the bacteria make the adjustment. Depending on the animals' fat reserves, they might starve while waiting this period out, even though their bellies are full.

The best thing you can do for all winter wildlife is trying not to disturb them. They only have so much reserve, and the flight response requires a big output of energy. Keep your cats away from the bird feeder, keep your dog on a leash when you hike through the woods, and slow down in your vehicle when traveling through deer or elk country. We can all make an effort to maintain quality habitat for wildlife to live, ensuring that they have the food and shelter they need year-round.

Check out these links for more information:




Julie L. Hopkins, GBOP