David Gaillard and volunteers get ready to embark into the wilderness of the Centennial Mountains
Spend a weekend in the Centennial Mountains looking for hairs from a grizzly bear? Talk about a needle in a haystack! Yet after a conversation with a biologist friend who recently appeared in the newspaper using the same technique to document grizzly bears in the mountains south of Bozeman, Montana where I live, I decided I had to give it a try (an excuse to get out of the office and enjoy the end of Montana’s fleeting summer did not hurt!).
Friday evening we met at a local supermarket where we got final supplies and packed into the rental cars for a 3-hour drive. As twilight fell, a pair of sandhill cranes ghosted above us indicating we had arrived in the Centennial Valley home of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Sleeping under the stars for the next two nights and hiking all day long made for a full weekend and darned if we did not find and collect quite a lot of hairs, though it will be months before we know if any came from a grizzly bear. Read on to learn how we did so, and be sure to check out my homemade video of the experience as well—cheers all!
—Dave Gaillard, Rocky Mountain Region Representative.
The Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear is listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, in part because it is isolated from grizzly bear populations elsewhere in North America. The Centennial Mountains along the Continental Divide that divides Montana and Idaho west of Yellowstone National Park is at the western frontier of the Yellowstone grizzly bear’s current range. It also provides one of the best hopes to re-connect the Yellowstone grizzly bear with other populations in western Montana and Idaho, because of its east-west axis that is rare in the Rockies, which predominantly run north and south. Documentation of grizzly bear use in the Centennial Mountains will help managers maintain this area for grizzly bears, when making decisions about livestock grazing, timber sales and other land use activities (this area is largely public land dmanaged by agencies that include the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
Ordinary citizens with an interest in grizzly bear conservation and the ability to live and hike through remote, rugged country can gather reliable scientific data to document the use of an area by grizzly bears. Powerful new genetic analysis make it possible to confirm presence of a grizzly bear from a sample of their scat (droppings), or even a small tuft of their hair. Grizzly bear hair is remarkably easy to find once you know what to look for, given that bears like to rub against trees and fences for a good scratch, and possibly to leave a scent mark to communicate with other bears.
Next week is Bear Awareness Week, but this year we’re kicking it off a little early. Because no one needs to be more Bear Aware than Stephen Colbert! If you’re a fan of the Comedy Central late-night star, you know Mr. ColBEAR has really got it in for bears—these magnificent animals regularly appear on his recurring segment, ThreatDown! (See video at right for a small sampling of his “attacks.”)
Of course, we all know Stephen is joking so we’ve decided to play along. Amid the BEAR-rel of laughs, our goal is to get out the very serious message about the importance of bear conservation.
Help Stop Stephen Colbert’s War on Bears
Once you start the video, you can mouse over the player to scroll between Ed and Cloris’ videos.
For this lighthearted campaign, we’ve enlisted our friends, entertainment legends Ed Asner and Cloris Leachman, to call out Stephen for his “extreme anti-bear rhetoric.” Check out their own tongue-in-cheek videos at right. (Note that the language can be a little salty, so may not be appropriate for young wildlife supporters.)
To really make this campaign successful, we need to get Stephen’s attention and this is where YOU can show your support for bears.
Sign the petition. Urge Stephen Colbert to designate May 19th as “Better Know a Bear Day” on The Colbert Report.
Send a bear to Stephen. Make a tax-deductible donation of $30 or more to support our wildlife-saving work and we’ll send a plush bear to Stephen on your behalf. (If he won’t listen to our words, he may just take notice of 1,000 bears showing up at his New York studio!)
Let’s all send a message to Stephen to put aside his irrational fear of bears and give these important animals the respect they deserve!
Visit www.defenders.org/bears to find out more about the real threats facing America’s bears today, what Defenders is doing to help protect them—and what you can do to help.
Grizzly bears have started to make a comeback in recent years, repopulating some of their historic range in the lower 48 states. Black bears remain fairly common, with an estimated 600,000 living in at least 40 U.S. states. (Have trouble telling the two bear species apart? Check out the video above!) But some of the bears’ old stomping grounds are now occupied by parking lots and housing developments, and encounters between bears and humans are on the rise.
In some areas, the conflicts may have been prompted by a lack of native foods in the region. In Montanta, native berries such as serviceberry, chokecherry, hawthorn and huckleberry – critical to a bear’s ability to store fat for winter – have been scarce this year.
Meanwhile, grizzly bear populations in the area are on the rise, and humans are moving ever further into bear habitats, dotting formerly open lands with highways, subdivisions, livestock yards and other human constructions. In years such as this, bears begin to widen their search for food. This commonly leads to a summer cabin or community subdivision where green grass (a bear favorite), garbage cans, chicken coops, birdfeeders, pets and livestock abound.
So are these kinds of conflicts between bears and humans inevitable? We’re working to make sure they are not. Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to minimizing bear-human conflicts through proactive projects such as the installation of electric fencing around chicken coops and livestock bone yards, or cost-sharing for bear-resistant garbage containers for local communities. Properly erected electric fencing is proving to be an excellent bear-deterrent. It is being used successfully in grizzly country to protect everything from chicken coops to calving grounds to school yards. Here’s a map showing the locations of some of our bear coexistence projects in the Northern Rockies region.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to minimizing bear-human conflicts through proactive projects such as the installation of electric fencing around chicken coops and livestock bone yards, or cost-sharing for bear-resistant garbage containers for local communities.
What You Can Do
If you are living in bear country there are some steps you can take to ensure bears do not come into trouble on your property:
Store all garbage in a bear-resistant container or secure building until the morning of pickup or until you take it to the local dump.
Do not hang birdfeeders between March-November. This includes hummingbird feeders. Birds do not need a supplemental food resource in the summer. Try a birdbath or birdhouse instead.
Pick fruit a week or two before it ripens. Rotting fruit is a major attractant for bears.
Install electric fencing to keep bears out of calving grounds, sheep bedding grounds, compost piles, gardens and chicken coops
Store your pets’ food inside. Bring in bowls as soon as your pet is finished eating.