An Interview with Rose Oliver, GBOP Field Coordinator

Interview with Rose Olvier, Skagit and Whatcom County Field Coordinator for the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project, for Bellingham WA’s Co-op Community News

Hiking in the North Cascades some time in the late 1990s, I met a momma bear and her cub on the trail. They were extremely beautiful, with the sun shining through their long fur as the wind ruffled it. My response at the time, however, was to say “B-B-B- Baby Bear!” in a tone of deep distress. Then I ran rapidly back down the trail for several miles.

So when I had a chance to talk with Rose Oliver, the Skagit and Whatcom County Field Coordinator for the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project (GBOP), I asked for some pointers, in case I ever meet more bears on the trail.

“Well,” she said diplomatically, “You did do a good job putting distance between the bears and you. Generally, though, backing away slowly is much better than running.”

As their name suggests, the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project knows about bears, and about human-bear interactions. However their work has grown beyond just black bears and grizzly bears to include wolves and cougars. The organization works across the state, focusing primarily on areas where people and other large carnivores overlap. Rose provided more detail about the collective importance of those species.

“We focus on a few species we call ‘keystone species.’ If you think of an ecosystem as shaped like an arch, large predators are the keystone block in the center; they may be small in number, but without that block, the whole structure collapses. The same is true with our ecosystems.”

Specifically in the case of cougars and wolves, it is proven that when they have been removed from an ecosystem, over-browsing by deer and elk can occur, who love to eat tree saplings before they’ve had a chance to mature. However, songbirds, fish, and small mammal communities rely on these trees growing to full maturity. The presence of cougars and wolves creates more biologically diverse plant and animal communities.”

GBOP’s insistence on the importance of science reflects their mission; they’re an educational organization. They spend a lot of time meeting with businesses, individuals, park and forest service staff, as well as tabling at community events. In a region where political tensions characterize a lot of opinion about large carnivores, they describe themselves like this: “We are unique because we meet with community members and listen to their opinions, concerns, and ideas, and we partner with government agencies, non-government organizations, and the public to create wildlife-safe communities.”

Rose lives in Marblemount, not too distant from where the first confirmed North Cascades Grizzly sighting in more than a decade happened last year. Given the potential for urban/ rural divisions of opinion about bears, wolves, and cougars, I was happy to hear that the group’s field staff generally live in communities directly affected by what Rose calls “the human-wildlife interface.”

“We have field staff in Twisp,  Issaquah, and along the Washington-Idaho border,” she explained. “While education is important for everyone, we really focus our work on the areas where these animals and people are sharing territory.

“It’s important to be prepared for an encounter with a bear when you’re in bear country, but it’s also important to dispel some of the common myths and misconceptions people have. For instance, you are more likely to be struck by lightning or killed in a car wreck on the way to a trailhead than attacked by a grizzly bear. All in all, bears are far more likely to enhance your wilderness experience than spoil it.”

As part of their educational efforts, GBOP has created some luggage-tag-style checklists to attach to hiking packs. The tag lists how to respond to encounters with wildlife. You can pick one up, along with lots of other educational materials, at the Community Food Co-op during their Community Shopping Day on May 19. That way, if you meet a bear like I did, you’ll have the correct response close at hand. Creating a critical mass of science-based knowledge about keystone predators is at the heart of GBOP’s mission.

Bears, wolves, and cougars were all more or less extirpated from Washington State by the 1930s as a result of attitudes of the time and government bounties for killing them. So the re-emergence of large predator species and new government protections for them represent a huge cultural shift. Rose and I talked about the five new wolf packs that have naturally returned to Washington, and the recent illegal poaching of some of them.

Despite the conflicts, Rose finished our conversation with some words of appreciation for our unique historical moment. “It’s amazing to live in a time when we can experience eagles returning to our rivers, swans to the fields, and even see wolverines and wolves making Washington their home once again. I’m proud to live in a state wild enough to provide suitable habitat for all of these creatures.”

by Robin Elwood, Co-op Community News Staff

Page 4 of the Co-Op Community News and GBOP Interview with Rose Oliver

Governor Gregoire Declares May 20-26, 2012 Bear Awareness Week

Washington State’s Governor Gregoire declares May 20-26, 2012 “Bear Awareness Week”
Special resources celebrate state’s grizzly and black bears and educate the public on how to co-exist

Black bears and grizzlies are an important part of our state’s natural heritage. Today, Washington has one of the healthiest black bear populations in the U.S.  It is also one of just five states in the lower 48 still wild enough for a small number of federally-listed threatened grizzly bears.

Recognizing the value of bears and the need to educate the public on how to live and recreate safely with them, Governor Christine Gregoire recently declared May 20-26 “Bear Awareness Week.”  Among other points, the Governor’s proclamation notes, “Whereas, by educating the public on the ecology, behavior, and conservation of bears, it is possible for people and bears to coexist peacefully…” 

New Grizzly Bear Study within Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee approved a DNA hair snare study within the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear ecosystem to be conducted over the next few years. This study will parallel a similar study that was conducted within the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem several years ago. This study will be conducted over the entire Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, which lies partially within Idaho and Montana states. The ecosystem will be divided in approximately 395 grids, which are (5km x 5km) in size. A sampling station will be established within each grid. Each sampling grid will include a hair snagging station which is designed to collect hair from bears and other wildlife that are attracted to the grid station. Bears are attracted to the grid station by a scent lure and hair samples are collected by barbed wire without injury to the animals. Teams of scientists then collect the hair samples regularly for analysis. A visual analysis will determine species of bear and further genetic analysis can be used to identify individual bear and sex. The outcome will allow scientists and managers to best determine the number of grizzly bears that are within that ecosystem within a high degree of statistical accuracy and what steps may be needed to further recovery efforts.

For more information:


Autumn, Hunting and Bear Safety (and Pies)

For some, cooler weather means additional sweaters, increased heating bills and a great excuse to eat a lot of pie.  For others, autumn means big game hunting season.  We walk quietly through the woods, in camouflage sometimes sprayed with animal musk, and we bugle to attract animals.  While our technique may be good way to attract deer and elk, they are also a good way to attract a curious bear. 

While bears are naturally shy creatures, there have been an increased number of incidents with grizzlies this year.  A high number of grizzlies have been relocated or removed by wildlife agents due to human food habituation, and there have been two human deaths from grizzly bear attacks this year; a hiker in Yellowstone National Park and a hunter in Lincoln County.  Deaths from bear attacks are very rare, but precautions should be taken when hiking, camping and hunting.

Please read Staying Safe in Bear Country where you can learn about bear behavior and how to properly respond to a potential bear attack.  Read Tips for Coexistence to learn about safely hunting, camping and hiking in bear country. 

Tips for Coexistence also lists ways in which you can keep your yard free from bear attractants.  Bears have a very strong sense of smell and are attracted to unsecured garbage, greasy BBQs, dog food, bird feeders and more.  Bears that are attracted to human food can become problematic, and may be removed or killed – and they hold the potential to do some decent property damage.  Just as we’re putting on a little fat for the winter (ahh, the joy of eating pie), bears are preparing to den for the winter and are focused on eating as many calories as possible: in late summer and early fall black bears can eat up to 20,000 calories a day, grizzly bears twice that much. 

Whether you are preparing for a fall hunt, or preparing your BBQ for storage, follow the links above to learn more about being Bear Smart and about responsibly living with bears. 

Hiker stops grizzly with bear spray

Chris Laing was hiking in Teton Canyon, Wyoming when he encountered a grizzly bear sow with two cubs. The sow was chasing after Laing’s dog when suddenly she headed towards Laing. He used bear spray to deter the bear and managed to leave the trail uninjured.

Wyoming Game and Fish Specialist Mike Boyce thinks Laing’s dog was a factor in provoking the bear. Boyce recommends hiking with others, making noise, keeping dogs on leashes, carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. Read the entire article

For more information on encountering a bear and staying safe in bear country visit GBOP’s website

Learn more about bear spray versus bullets in detering bears.

Male Bears Responsible for Majority of Fatal Black Bear Attacks

While female grizzly bears with young have always been considered to be the more dangerous sex, a recent study by bear biologist Stephen Herrero suggests that the opposite may be true for black bears. Herrero’s study on fatal black bear attacks from 1900 to 2009, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, shows that male black bear are responsible for over 90% of the 63 fatal attacks on humans in the U.S. and Canada.

While the number of attacks per decade has risen since the 1960s, it is not thought to be due to bears becoming more aggressive, but due to more people living and recreating in bear habitat. The study also suggests a correlation between the attacks, food availability and a bear’s lack of previous experience with humans.

Listen to a recent interview with Dr. Herrero and learn more about his study, the two different types of bear attacks; Defensive and Predatory, and what steps to take if faced with either type of attack. Also visit GBOP’s Tips for Coexistence and Bear Safety pages.

Bear resistant trash cans could help in Issaquah

Following up on recent bear incidents in Issaquah, the Seattle news station King 5 aired a story on June 14, 2011 investigating if Waste Management was planning to take any action. Waste Management was up to the challenge.

For the past several months, as a GBOP field representative, I have been collaborating with Waste Management and the City of Issaquah in researching bear resistant cans. During the initial 6 month trial, different designs of bear resistant cans will be tested with refuse trucks throughout various neighborhoods. The design that is most durable, keeps the bears out, is child safe and user-friendly for residents and Waste Management will be selected and offered to residents of Issaquah. This will greatly reduce the potential for human bear conflict and minimize bears frequenting our neighborhoods rummaging through garbage.


Leavenworth implements garbage program

The City of Leavenworth is taking steps to discourage black bears and other wildlife from dining on residents garbage. The city is changing its garbage pick-up schedule to encourage residents to put out their garbage in the morning rather than the night before.

Leavenworth Public Works Director, Dave Schettler and several city council members attended meetings and presentations where living in black bear country was discussed. Leavenworth and the surrounding area is prime black bear country and bears are frequently spotted in and around town. By moving the garbage pick-up time from 6:30am to 8:00am the city hopes to eliminate the availability of garbage as an attractant and food source for the local bears. The city notified customers last month of the change by handing out pink flyers explaining the new system.

Leavenworth experienced an increase in bear encounters last year and hopes to avoid a similar situation this year. Residents have reported bears around Blackbird Island, a popular walking and running trail along the Wenatchee River that runs through the middle of town; school field trips and soccer games have also been canceled in response to bear sightings in town.

In another step toward implementing bear safe practices the city has ordered some 64-gallon bear resistant trash bins. The special trash bins will be provided to customers who have had continued problems with wildlife feeding on their trash. These small steps will certainly help in reducing the bear encounters in the city and move Leavenworth closer to being a bear smart community.