Grizzly Bear Numbers Increase In Montana

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Grizzly Bear Numbers Increase In Montana

by FlatheadNative » Fri Apr 30, 2010 12:40 am

I thought it would be interesting story about the bear population in Montana.

Daily Interlake Newspaper
Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2010 2:00 am

by JIM MANN/Daily Inter Lake

Bear managers suspected the Northern Continental Divide grizzly population has been increasing, and now a six-year trend study has confirmed an annual average growth rate of 3 percent.

The findings were presented at a meeting Wednesday in Kalispell by Rick Mace, a research biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks who led the population trend study.

“The trend is up, the trend is good,” Mace told a panel of wildlife and land managers at Fish, Wildlife and Parks headquarters.

He added that there needs to be continued vigilance in monitoring a relatively small population that can be vulnerable to a variety of circumstances from year to year.

A 2004 genetic population study led by the U.S. Geological Survey produced a “snapshot” population estimate of 752 bears that year.

The trend study was designed as companion research to determine whether the population was increasing or declining.

It involved monitoring with GPS collars between 25 and 45 female grizzly bears each year, with a focus on birth rates and survival rates for adults and their offspring. That proved to be a daunting task over an 8-million-acre study area, most of it rugged and remote.

A team of about a dozen people used hiking, horses, helicopters, boats and vehicles to capture, collar and then follow the research bears. And the work had to be properly distributed, with a higher number of collars in the more densely populated Glacier National Park area, and fewer in the less populated southern portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

Then the study involved rigorous statistical modeling to produce probabilities, birth rates and survival rates.

The study found that annual survival rates increase as bears grow older: cubs of the

year at 61 percent, yearlings at 68 percent, subadults at 88 percent and adults at 95 percent. It found that management bears that have had conflicts with people have an 80 percent annual survival rate.

It found that there is a 32 percent probability for females to have cubs each year.

Those and other factors were boiled down into the all-important statistic known as “lambda,” the population trend.

“The basic trend of this population is that it has been growing at about 3 percent a year” during the study period, Mace said.

However, he stressed that is an average rate for the entire population. Reproductive growth actually “wobbles” from year to year, and some parts of the ecosystem have higher rates than other parts.

“But 3 percent as a mean is a very good growth rate for grizzly bears,” he said.

Mace attributes the growing population to a variety of changes that have occurred, starting with the listing of grizzly bears as a threatened species in 1975. A grizzly bear hunt was phased out entirely by 1990, and forest road densities have been decreasing since 1995.

Montana’s grizzly bear management specialists deserve considerable kudos, Mace said, for reducing bear-human conflicts. They have educated the public, introduced bear-proof food and garbage containers, and made considerable efforts in working with management bears.

The now-widespread practice of carrying bear spray as a deterrent rather than firearms has made a big difference.

“I do believe there been a public attitude change” that has increasingly favored bear conservation over the years, Mace said.

The study’s findings were not surprising to Jim Williams, the state’s regional wildlife manager.

“We knew it had to be happening,” Williams said, because grizzly bears appeared to be expanding their range beyond the Northern Continental Divide recovery area that was defined years ago.

“Now we’re seeing the grizzly bear population expanding into areas where we haven’t seen them for years,” said Mike Madel, the grizzly bear management specialist on the Rocky Mountain Front.

Madel gave a presentation at the meeting showing how grizzly bears have been using the Marias, Teton and Sun River drainages to move more than 60 miles from the front in recent years.

Madel said he has long worked with about 150 ranchers on the front, but lately he has been holding meetings with people in the Shelby, Simms and Fairfield communities who are not familiar with the possibility of grizzly bears roaming nearby.

Telemetry monitoring of one female bear showed that it was using the cover of river corridors by day and then moving into open crop lands at night.

Madel said population growth may not be the prime driver behind the eastward expansion of grizzly bears. There are other factors, such as learned behaviors in discovering new food sources on the plains that are passed onto their offspring.

And Mace cautioned that the growing population trend of recent years may not be permanent. Functioning as sort of a sanctuary that has produced its relatively high population density, Glacier Park may reach a carrying capacity for grizzly bears.

“Funny things start happening” when wildlife populations reach their limits, he said, such as lower birth rates and lower survival rates.

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by BobSmith » Fri May 07, 2010 3:40 am

Nice to know that at least the populations are decreasing.

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[b]More news on the Bears[/b]

by FlatheadNative » Fri May 07, 2010 5:29 am

New Oil Well Drilling on the Blackfeet Reservation could threaten the population.

Article from The Hungry Horse News Thursday May 6 Edition.

The Blackfeet Reservation could see as many as 70 new oil wells not far from Glacier National Park, grizzly bear managers learned last week.

Tribal wildlife biologist Dan Carney said there's plans for developing dozens of oil wells north of U.S. Highway 2 on the plains outside the Park.

Energy companies have already drilled wells close to the Park and the Rocky Mountain Front.

One exploration well is located in the north end of the reservation near the Canadian border and Glacier's Belly River country.

A second well is located south of U.S. Highway 2 near some prairie potholes. The sheer number of new wells is raising concerns with wildlife managers.

Chris Servheen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator said bear managers weren't aware of the broad expanse of wells planned.

"It's certainly of concern," he said. "You bet."

Grizzly bears in recent years have slowly, but surely, been expanding their range. Glacier Park acts as a refuge for bears — unlike other regions, there are few human-caused mortalities in the Park and the population is doing well.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Rick Mace estimates the grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem is expanding at a rate of about 3 percent a year. The NCDE covers 8 million acres of land from Glacier Park south to Lincoln along the Continental Divide.

According to a recent DNA study, nearly 50 percent of all the grizzly bears in the NCDE live in Glacier Park.

Mace has been radio collaring and tracking dozens of grizzly bears over a six year period. By tracking females and their cubs, he was able to determine the estimated growth rate of the population.

The growth didn't surprise Servheen.

"We had every indication the grizzly bear population was doing well," he said. "This is the first hard documentation."

But the success of the bear population comes as a cautionary tale. Increasing pressure from humans is still a paramount concern, bear managers noted.

Glacier Park officials, for example, are worried about the impacts a new federal law would have that allows guns in national parks.

"The real concern is someone shooting a bear," said Jack Potter, Chief of Science and Management for the Park.

While carrying a gun is illegal, shooting one, unless a person is in "imminent danger," is not, Park managers noted.

In addition to those concerns, wildlife managers in cooperation with Canadian biologists are tracking grizzly bears and wolverines by radio collars and transmitters in the Canadian Flathead.

The area around Fernie, British Columbia, is growing and the idea is to secure key wildlife habitat through conservation easements or outright purchase to allow connectivity of populations across Highway 3 in Canada.

Climate change could impact bear populations, biologists note, and one way to hedge against habitat variability is to manage for biodiversity across a large landscape, so bears and other populations can move if need be. It's not unusual for a grizzly bear to travel 80 miles in search of food or to get to its favorite berry patch — especially males.

But four-lane highways, like the one planned for Highway 3 in Canada, could prove a hindrance to migrations.

"The time is now to consider the impacts," Servheen noted.

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