Safe travels in bear country begin before you get on the trail. Learning about bears before you go to the park can help you avoid a confrontation. Read about bear spray and what to do if you encounter a bear. When you arrive at the park, check at the nearest backcountry office or visitor center. The link below has information to help visitors travel safely in bear country.
The information on this site can be applied in other regions that have grizzly bears, including Idaho, Washington and Montana. Know before you go!
Every year, the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project teams up with Woodland Park Zoo to stage an event that is not only fun for bears and people, but helps to demonstrate some things NOT to do if you live and recreate in bear country. Zoo staff arranged the aftermath of a children’s birthday party with left-over pizza boxes and remnant birthday cake, and of course a few hotdogs strewn around. Keema and Denali, the zoo’s two 700+ pound grizzly bears, were allowed to arrive on the scene as if the human participants had all gone back inside the house and left the goodies, now available to foraging bears.
Lorna Smith, Executive Director of GBOP, and her wildlife biologist husband Darrell Smith who volunteers for GBOP, were on hand to narrate the bear’s behavior for a fascinated audience. GBOP also had lots of visitors to their display table in the bear grotto where free “bear safety” and bear natural history information was handed out to the public.
Ray Robertson, GBOP Field Representative and wolf expert also had a display table adjacent to the wolf enclosure. He shared some very exciting footage of Washington wolf pups, the first to be seen in the region in nearly 100 years. Thanks also to volunteers Mandy and Alan Shankle for a very professional job at the GBOP information table!
Cougars are an important part of our natural heritage. Sleek and graceful, cougars are solitary and secretive animals rarely seen in the wild. With neighborhoods encroaching into wildlife habitat, the number of cougar sightings may increase, but a cougar sighting does not mean that there are more in an area. The cougar’s ability to travel long distances occasionally brings these cats into seemingly inappropriate areas, even places densely settled by humans. Such appearances are almost always brief, with the animal moving along quickly in its search of a suitable permanent home.
The young cougar in this news article was safely trapped and removed from such a place. “She could be at an age where she’s learning to hunt on her own. Her mother likely ran her off to encourage her to establish her own territory.” Such inexperience gets some cougars into trouble, but in this case good practices in non-lethal wildlife control techniques by state wildlife agents may help assure that this cougar will have no interest in anything human. Karelian Bear Dogs, which work to deter and repel bears, are being used to conduct similar work with cougars. Read the article, look at the photo gallery, and find that even an officer many years in the field can still be deeply moved to appreciate a magnificent young cougar.
Click the link to read the HeraldNet news article:
$10,000 Reward Offered for Grizzly Bear Shootings in Northern Idaho.
Investigation continues in shooting of grizzly and her nursing cub.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) law enforcement agents and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) are investigating the fatal shooting of a federally protected grizzly bear and her nursing cub in northern Idaho. A reward of $10,000 is being offered for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.
The dead adult grizzly was discovered on the morning of May 18 by a hiker from Bonners Ferry, Idaho. It was located in a clear-cut in Boundary County on Hall Mountain. Hall Mountain is located east of the Kootenai River valley and northwest of US Highway 95.
The adult bear was a large female that was lactating, an indication she was nursing a cub (or cubs) produced during her recent winter hibernation. A subsequent search of the surrounding area by an Idaho Fish and Game Biologist turned up a dead cub that had also been shot. Both bears appeared to have been dead a few days when found on May 18.
Both carcasses are being flown to the US Fish and Wildlife Service lab in Ashland Oregon for necropsy and further retrieval of evidence.
A black bear season is currently open in Idaho; however, hunters may not shoot grizzly bears and may not shoot black bears with cubs. A bear identification program to train hunters to differentiate the species was posted last year and is available on the IDFG web page.
Grizzly bears are classified as a threatened species in the lower 48 states and are protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. Killing a threatened species protected by the ESA carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Anyone with information about this incident should contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent in Spokane, Washington, at 509-928-6050; the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at 208-769-1414; or the Idaho Citizens Against Poaching Program at 1-800-632-5999. Callers can remain anonymous.
No additional information is being released at this time pending further investigation.
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.”
Today the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to approve a state conservation and management plan for the gray wolf.
Crafted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), with the help of a seventeen-member public stakeholder advisory group, the plan went through an extensive vetting process. WDFW consulted outside agencies and wolf experts, and conducted a blind scientific peer review. They held two public comment periods and several workshops, receiving comments from over 65,000 people – mostly supporting wolf recovery. The final product, adopted by the commission today, presents a science-based approach that balances the legal and biological requirements of a recovery plan with the real needs for on-the-ground management tools and a fair compensation package for the small number of livestock producers who may face impacts.
Derrick Knowles, an avid hunter who works for wildlife group Conservation Northwest, participated as a member of the Wolf Working Group. Knowles congratulated WDFW and the Commission for their foresight and leadership towards finalizing a state plan for wolves:
“While it isn’t any one special interest group’s perfect plan, it’s the right plan for Washington and I applaud the Fish and Wildlife Commission for their leadership today.”
“Throughout the process I worked closely with hunters, cattlemen, scientists and other conservationists and my experience as a working group member convinced me that we can work through most concerns and differences, and be better off for it.”
“I am really proud of the work everyone has done to get us to this point. We all spent countless hours serving on the Wolf Working Group to help shape the plan in a way that addressed everyone’s needs. There was a lot of compromise.”
Jasmine Minbashian, who directs Conservation Northwest’s wolf program is also pleased with the outcome:
“There is clearly a lot of support for a balanced wolf recovery plan in Washington, despite opposition from a minority. A majority of the wolf working group supported it – including other livestock groups and some hunters. Finding the middle ground on what is a polarizing issue – I’d call it a big success.”
“We’ve learned lessons from the conflict over wolves in the Rockies. We want Washington to be a state where wolf recovery works without the divisiveness found elsewhere in the West. This plan gives us the best shot at that goal.”
On the heels of Thanksgiving and with more holidays just around the corner, now is a great time to remember what we are truly thankful for, like being thankful we live in a state wild enough for grizzly bears and wolves.
You see, grizzly bears and wolves are keystone species and, just like the keystone of an arch is crucial to the stability of an arch, they too play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community. While the keystone is under the least pressure of any of the stones in an arch, the arch still collapses without it, just as an ecosystem will experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed. Grizzly bears and wolves are also considered to be indicator species meaning that they serve as a barometer of an ecosystem’s health. And due to their large home ranges, protection of sufficient habitat for grizzly bears and wolves will benefit a countless number of other species making them also what are called umbrella species. In short, these guys are really good for the health of Washington’s ecosystems, and what’s good for bears and wolves, like clean water, fresh air and healthy forests, is also good for people!
Both grizzly bears and wolves once roamed the western states from Canada to the Baja peninsula, but were hunted for food and sport so extensively that by the 1930’s just a handful of grizzlies and no known breeding packs of wolves remained in Washington. But these two keystone species have begun calling Washington home again. The recent confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the North Cascades and the 5 confirmed packs of wolves that have now moved here from British Columbia, Idaho and Oregon, suggests that Washington is reclaiming some of its wild disposition. And, for that, I am thankful.
Yesterday a federal appeals court ruled that the Yellowstone grizzly bear will not be removed from the federal endangered species list due to the bears’ reliance on the whitebark pine, a tree that has been declining in numbers from to beetle infestations.
Grizzly bears were given protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, at which time only about 136 grizzlies existed in the Greater Yellowstone Area. After bringing number up to levels considered sustainable by the recovery plan, in 2007 the Fish and Wildlife Service removed federal protection. A number of environmental organizations sued the government for delisting the bears at that time, stating that the decrease in whitebark pine creates a hardship for the bears and creates unsuitable habitat.
Tuesday’s ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocks the federal government from turning management of grizzly bears over to the concerned states; Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. In response to the court’s decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Chris Servheen states that the government with present the court with new evidence not available prior to the ruling.
Today there are about 600 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area, and their numbers continue to rise. With the higher number of bears in the area come higher numbers of bear-human encounters. 2011 had a higher than average number of grizzly-human conflicts, including 2 human deaths. GBOP remains committed to educating communities about living safely with grizzly bears. Please read more about grizzly bear identification, tips for coexistence, and safety.
The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project needs your help selecting a new name for our organization.
Now that our educational outreach has expanded beyond grizzly bears and black bears to include cougars and wolves, we need an organizational name that reflects our new scope. Your input is very important to us to help us select the new name.
We are looking for an umbrella name, under which we can still maintain separate projects such as the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project, Cougar Outreach Project, etc.
In the linked survey we have listed several possibilities for you to rate. Note that there is also a box for you to add your own suggestions. We truly want to hear your ideas.
Please respond by Friday, November 18!!!
We will be announcing our new name in 2012. Thank you for taking the time to fill out the survey and helping us with this exciting next stage of our organization.
The Idaho Panhandle National Forest recently put into place a new Food Storage Order of the Priest Lake, Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry Ranger Districts. This Forest Service Order will deal with human food and pet food, garbage and bird seed, deer carcasses, fish entrails and anything else that might lure wildlife into trouble especially bears. This has been done to reduce conflicts and potential conflict between wildlife and humans. The Colville National Forest, which also manages lands within this ecosystem, has had a similar food storage order in place since 1987 when its forest plan was revised. The new food storage requirements are intended to be permanent, effective each year from April 1 through Dec. 1. The rules applying to the “front country,” such as around Priest Lake, have been encouraged for years. They include keeping food in a vehicle or hard-sided shelter when not being consumed at meals. The new rules specifically prohibit feeding wildlife and putting up bird feeders – liquid, suet or seed – in certain areas. Bear-resistant garbage containers will be required in designated areas and camp food and leftovers, such as bacon grease, must be hauled out and not buried on site. Within most other grizzly bear ecosystems, the National Forests and Parks have had similar rules for years. The conditions of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests new food storage order only pertain to activities on national forest system lands within this ecosystem.
For more information on this Food Storage Order visit the Idaho Panhandle National Forests website.