Turning Fear of Wildlife into Something Positive

Reprinted from THE FREE PRESS
Fri Jun 16th, 2017

Editors Note: Western Wildlife Outreach has long been warning mountain bike enthusiasts about the need for caution when riding back country trails in bear and/or cougar country. The “need for speed” puts you at greater risk for coming into accidental contact with a large carnivore and surprising them. Surprised animals can react defensively and unpredictably to protect themselves or offspring. Slow it down, and carry bear spray.

WildsafeBC Community Coordinator, Kathy Murray’s journey toward becoming a wildlife expert was inspired by a close encounter with a grizzly bear in Banff National Park, 19 years ago.

On an evening bike ride through the Pipestone Loop Trail, Murray rounded a corner and came face to face with a grizzly sow and her cubs. The bear bluff charged her, stopping three feet in front of her face, with nothing by the bike held in front of her to separate them. The bears dodged around her, and Murray escaped with no injury. This encounter terrified Murray, and deflated her ambition to hike or bike anymore.

Refusing to let fear overcome her love for the outdoors, Murray set out to learn about how humans can coexist with some of natures largest and most fearsome animals.

“I decided to take that fear and turn it into something positive,” she said.

So far this year, there have been many bear sightings, the latest being this past Monday on 4th avenue. Also recently, there was a grizzly spotted on Old Stumpy Trail, and up by the power lines near the Mt. Proctor trails. Murray knows that the summer will soon bring with it lots of people focused on recreating.

“It’s really up to all of us, to be responsible, share the habitat, share the trails,” she said.

The reason for the many bear sightings is due to our heavy snowfall, and cold spring. With little food for the bears in the alpine, they are being forced into the valley bottoms to feed.

Murray believes we can expect to see bears in lower areas for a few more weeks, until the higher areas start to green up.

“People in general have to have a better understanding of bear behaviour,” said Murray. “And a better tolerance, so that we can peacefully co-exist.”

Murray reiterated that it’s extremely important to keep garbage indoors.

“Once bears get a taste of human garbage, human food, and lose their fear of people, it’s pretty much impossible to reverse the process,” she said. “Garbage to bears is like heroin to a crack addict.”

If this happens, the bear becomes what biologists consider a ‘problem’ bear, that we (the public) created.

A grizzly found in town close to a month ago, was relocated 15 kilometres out. The hope is that the bear will become comfortable in their new home, learn to feed and stay put. However this grizzly found its way back to town very soon after.

There are currently several biologists working in the Elk Valley, studying the way grizzly bears use the landscape in the Elk Valley and how they interact with people. They plan on having radio collars on ten sample grizzly bears, in order to track them and gain a better understanding of their activities.

Biologists have been conducting similar studies in the flathead for the past 36 years.

The grizzly which returned to Fernie does have a radio collar, and biologist are monitoring her behaviour. She has not been back after being relocated again.

A previous method of removing bears from an area was translocation, which took bears far away. However even if they were taken hundreds of kilometres away, the bears almost always found their way back again, or they become problem animals in another community.

Murray believes relocation and translocation, “…are not solutions.”

“The best way to keep people safe, prevent human wildlife conflict, and the needless destruction of bears, is to not bait them into the communities in the first place,” said Murray.

With many newcomers in town, Murray believes it is up to the old-time residents to lead by example, keep their garbage locked up, clean up their fruit trees and bring in their bird feeders.

If an individual does not have access to a carport or garage in which to store their garbage between collection days, Murray encourages the use of the 24/7 bear resistant communal bins found at the Fernie Memorial Arena, the Aquatic Centre, and Max Turyk Community Centre.

Since her arrival in Fernie in 2000, Murray has seen a massive increase in trail usage. She believe the high speed and quiet travels puts mountain bikers at risk of animal encounters. When approaching a blind corner, yell or call out, and always carry bear spray.

Murray will be running several sessions throughout the summer, teaching individuals how to properly deploy bear spray. She is currently teaching people at several businesses and schools in the area.

The Iconic Grizzly Bear Returns

by Dr. Jordan Schaul. First posted in Huffington Post. Reprinted here with permission from the author.

Posted: 12/04/2015 12:13 pm EST

Acclaimed photographer Tom Mangelsen and noted journalist Todd Wilkinson just released the book Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, which is a memoir of sorts of one of the most famous grizzly bears in the Lower 48. Her name is 399 and she is a star among bears.

Bear 399 was first fitted with a tracking collar back in 2001, as a 5-year-old sow living in Grand Teton National Park. Studies of 399 and her cubs’ movements and interactions with people near Jackson Hole have recently enlightened researchers about the behavior of habituated bears, not to be confused with food conditioned bears.

Pioneering radio telemetry studies were conducted by the Craigheads in the late 1950’s, when they researched the behavior and ecology of the grizzly bears of Yellowstone. Although the technology is now more sophisticated with the advent of GPS collars, conceptually the telemetric study of bears and other carnivores as they move across the landscape remains fundamentally the same. The collar emits a signal, which enables researchers to remotely monitor the movements of wildlife and their use of habitat.

In her 19 years, 399 has produced 15 cubs and her legacy will be continued by her surviving offspring. Bear 399 has garnered an immense amount of media attention around the world and has turned Jackson Hole into a mecca for bear viewing. Most importantly, bear 399 is a testament to bear conservation management programs adopted in the contiguous US.

Grizzlies, which are North America’s version of the brown bear have made an astonishing comeback from the mid-1970’s when they were federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Although they must endure emerging threats from the likes of climate change, humans continue to pose the biggest threat through more direct influences.

Rebounding grizzly populations in the Lower 48 translate into more than just the restoration of a wildlife icon. The presence of grizzlies speaks to the health of ecosystems. Grizzlies are both umbrella and keystone species. Conserving these majestic mammals serves to facilitate preservation efforts for a multitude of other species that also occur in habitats where grizzly bears exist.

As eminent ecologist David Suzuki said, “Scientists believe that grizzly bears are an essential part of healthy, fully functioning ecosystems in western North America. Known as a “keystone” species, grizzlies are “ecosystem engineers” that help to regulate prey species and disperse the seeds of many plant species, such as blueberry and buffaloberry. They also help to maintain plant and forest health, both by aerating the soil as they dig for roots, pine nuts and ground squirrels, and by moving thousands of kilograms of spawning salmon carcasses into the forest, where trees and other plants absorb their high levels of nitrogen.”

According to the IUCN Red List, the world’s most comprehensive database on the conservation status of imperiled species, the total population of brown bears on Earth exceeds 200,000 individuals. Indeed, there are healthy and rebounding populations of brown bears around the world, with strongholds persisting in Russia, Canada and Alaska. Some of these populations are in decline, as a consequence of human-induced stressors like poaching, and encroachment and development of habitat. In addition, climate change and rapid human population growth continue to place pressure on these robust carnivores, which rival the polar bear as the largest terrestrial carnivore on the planet.

The brown bear is regionally extinct in Mexico and in Northern and Central Europe and in parts of Africa and Asia where it once flourished as an opportunistic omnivore and apex predator. Many of these regions on the planet will never be restored with brown bears, as habitat is not available nor is it suitable for reintroduction efforts. But as I mentioned in a recent article, some European brown bear populations are also making a comeback. This strongly suggests that human-brown bear coexistence is possible even in human-dominated landscapes. While some populations remain critically endangered, albeit stable (neither decreasing or increasing in numbers), others are actually increasing in size.

Critically endangered populations of brown bears face a high risk of extinction by definition. They are exceedingly vulnerable merely because their numbers are so low that they are susceptible to stochastic events. Lower reproductive rates and higher mortality rates in these small populations dictate that these bears receive as much protection as possible by wildlife management agencies. This is one reason that although grizzly bear recovery efforts have been deemed successful in restoring the North American brown bear to parts of their historic range in the Lower 48, efforts to delist the grizzly remain controversial and continue to be challenged by some in the conservation community.

The regionally “endangered” populations in both the contiguous US and Western Europe total under 20,000 bears with under 2,000 in the Lower 48 . Increasing development continues to threaten the 45-50 grizzly bears that inhabit the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem and other recovery zones in the Western US.

The Vital Ground Foundation is working to safeguard this population and bears in other recovery zones. The Montana-based land trust has launched an initiative to secure unprotected private land in the region so that bears can move undisturbed from protected public lands via linkage zones. The nonprofit conservation entity secures these properties through fee title acquisitions and conservation easements.

Vital Ground’s Executive Director Ryan Lutey provides a status report on grizzly bears in the Lower 48 for this year.

“During 2015, unusually warm, dry weather throughout western Montana and North Idaho diminished the availability of natural foods for bears, which has resulted in a dramatic increase in conflicts between bears and humans. Bears are being forced to roam farther in search of a meal, which offers many more opportunities for wandering bears to be hit crossing a highway or relocated or removed as part of a wildlife management action to mitigate a conflict. For a population as tenuous as the one in and around the Cabinet-Yaak, every single grizzly mortality carries implications for long-term recovery. and that’s why preventing additional human intrusion into wildlife habitat is so important. Collaborative approaches like helping private landowners tap into tax incentives associated with conservation easements protects wildlife habitat from inappropriate subdivision and development and helps make these teetering grizzly populations more resilient to both acute seasonal events and to the extended effects of climate change.”

In North America alone, there are nearly 58,000 brown bears (AKA grizzly bears). Most of these iconic mammals live in mountainous regions of Alaska and Western Canada. The recovery of the grizzly bear in the Lower 48 is an important restoration effort beyond just the conservation of one well-known and beloved species. Securing the future of these bears may be our most significant contribution to the conservation of North America’s natural heritage.

Bears Are Outsmarting Us, and It Might Kill Them

By CANDICE GAUKEL ANDREWS Reprinted  with permission from the author

We all love our national parks. They are our places of solace and refuge; of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. They afford us the chance to get close to what’s left of what is still wild. Of course, there is an inherent conflict in that. Once we have gotten close to “what is still wild,” we change it forever. That has never been truer than it is with bears. Bears are smart and they learn quickly, and what they’re picking up from contact with us could kill them.

Just two years ago, in the summer of 2013, a female black bear in an area just northeast of Yosemite Valley demonstrated her impressive abilities in cracking open bear canisters, a human invention that is supposedly “bear-proof.” Although no one has seen her in action, apparently she didn’t paw or chew on the containers, as other bears have done in the past. At a campsite where the canisters, filled with food, had been stashed near ground level, she went in at night and moved them to a nearby, 400-foot-high ledge. She then pushed the canisters off it and promptly scrambled down to the cliff’s base to retrieve the goodies.Park personnel had never come across anything like this before. It appears bears are keeping abreast of our innovations to thwart them. And in the end, it will probably kill them.

Today, it’s estimated that there are about 30,000 wild black bears in California.(Editors Note: Washington State has between 20-22,000 black bears and shares some of these same bear/human conflicts) In Yosemite National Park, there could be 300 to 500 black bears. If other bears were to start mimicking the Yosemite Valley female’s behavior, the state’s (and all states’) entire backcountry camping system—a key element of which is bear-proof food canisters—could be undermined. Bears are intelligent, and if one bear picked up that behavior, another could soon follow. It would create a free-for-all on backpackers’ food supplies and would almost certainly lead to bear-human interactions and conflicts.  Because park staffers can’t let that happen, last year they caught the clever bear and placed a GPS collar on her in order to track her movements. They set up extra patrols to haze her and to instruct campers to keep far away from the ledge. The incidents stopped in 2014, but this summer the bear started swiping canisters in the same area again. The park’s wildlife management department may have to pursue more drastic measures: banning campsites in the vicinity of the ledge altogether or euthanizing the bear.

Last August, in a study conducted at the Washington State University (WSU) Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center, eight grizzly bears were tested to see if they could use tools. In an experiment designed by student Alex Waroff, grizzly bears were enticed with a glazed doughnut dangling just out of their reach in their play area on the WSU campus. The researchers place a sawed-off tree stump below the hanging doughnut (which is not part of their normal diet) to see if the bears would use it to stand on to reach the treat. If they did that, then the stump would be turned on its side and moved away to see whether the bears would move it back under the gooey confection.  The study team hopes that this research will help us understand how bears think and that then we can anticipate their moves and alter our practices in the backcountry to keep us and the bears safe—mostly from us.

In the end, the Yosemite bear’s behavior is a reflection of our own. One mistake from one careless camper is all it takes to endanger a smart bear. In reality, as it’s often been said, wildlife management is 95 percent human management.  When animals outsmart us, should they be the ones to suffer? Since it is most often humans who make “problem bears,” should we be the ones that are hazed out of bear areas? Is euthanizing a bear ever the best solution?

Photo 1 ©Candice Gaukel Andrews, Photo 2 ©John T. Andrews, Photo 3 ©Justin R. Gibson

Originally published at http://goodnature.nathab.com/bears-are-outsmarting-us-and-it-might-kill-them/

Bears Without Fear: A Book Review

by David Stalling WWO Guest Blogger

We fear bears, bears fear us and fear leads to conflict. Bears ultimately suffer. My biggest fear regarding bears is that we won’t give them the respect and space enough they need and deserve to survive into the future. Bears are neither the mystical beasts nor the dangerous vicious killers we sometimes make them out to be; they are bears. The more we get to know and understand them the less we fear them and the better we can all get along.

Kevin Van Tighem of Canmore, Alberta, knows bears and (considering all the time he’s spent around bears since he was a child in the early 1960s) it’s probably safe to assume a few bears know him. A naturalist, hiker, hunter, fisherman and biologist who recently retired as the superintendent of Canada’s Banff National Park, Van Tighem has combined his extensive knowledge and experience with research and fine writing to produce a wonderful, informative book called Bears Without Fear (Rocky Mountain Books, 2013).

“They haunt the edges of the forests of our imagination. Since the dawn of time, humans and bears have lived uneasily together. . . There was a time when humans had little defense against bears. Now, in most cases, bears have no defense against us.”

Van Tighem

With human populations and development continuing to expand, and critical bear habitat shrinking, how can we ensure wild bears always grace our planet?  “Bears and humans can share our increasingly crowded world safely,” Van Tighem writes.

“But for that to happen, we need to learn to respect bears for what they really are, and to see that the choices we make almost always affect bears and other wildlife.”

Through facts, stories and photos Van Tighem’s book helps us better understand bears and how to live with them. Sections include the history of bears in human cultures, myths about bears, and the natural history and habitats of black bears, grizzlies and polar bears.  A section about bear research includes studies on how to reduce human-bear conflicts, and the book concludes with lists of places to see bears and tips for keeping ourselves and bears safe while in bear country.

“While it remains true that bears are capable of attacking and killing people, it remains no less true that they almost always chose not to,”  Van Tighem writes.

“The most dangerous thing about a bear is not its claws, teeth or disposition; it’s how we react to it.”

When we destroy their habitat, cause unnatural mortality, or they perceive us as an imminent threat to their young or their food, Bears don’t have a lot of choice as to how they react. We do.

“Past human choices have brought us to a time when almost every bear species in the world is under threat,” writes Van Tighem. “The choices we make tomorrow – about resource development, roads, agriculture and tourism, as well about our own personal behavior in bear country – will determine the future of the dwindling bear populations that survive today.”

Bears Without Fear is packed with knowledge to help us better understand bears; let’s hope it helps us all make better choices.

You can find more of David’s posts on nature at http://thoughtsfromthewildside.blogspot.com

Hungry Bears are on the Move

It is spring and Northwest  black bears are once again on the move. Hungry bears are emerging from their dens looking for ready sources of food to replace the calories lost during a winter of hibernation when bears can lose up to 1/2 their body weight.

Bear cubs are born in the winter during the mother’s hibernation. She frequently rouses to feed and care for them. When she first ventures out with new cubs in tow, she is particularly anxious to find enough food for the family group. Recreationalistsand those living near bear country should keep in mind that bear mothers can be extremely protective.

Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said field staff have already received reports of black bear activity in North Bend, Issaquah, and Chelan County.

“Black bears usually emerge from their dens in mid-to-late April, but warm weather can cause them to stir earlier”, Beausoleil said.

Lorna Smith, Executive Director of Western Wildlife Outreach, advises that anyone encountering a sow, or female bear and her cubs should keep a safe distance.

“If a close encounter occurs, stand tall, make noise, and back away slowly. Bear spray such as that produced by Counter Assault and several other brand names, contains capsaicin in a concentration formulated to be effective against any large carnivore and is an important tool to keep close at hand when in bear country. Carry it where you can reach it easily, like in a belt holster, and be prepared to use it when a bear charges or approaches too closely. However, black bear attacks on humans in Washington State are very, very rare. “

When black bears first emerge from their winter dens, they eat new spring greens supplemented with any winter-kill carrion which is easily located via the bear’s super keen sense of smell, many times more efficient than that of a human. Typically this diet is insufficient to help bears regain the body weight lost during hibernation and any food sources are potentially attractive to bears at this time.  A bear’s sense of smell may lead it to hone in on human-provided food after a winter spent hibernating.  Following are a few tips for preventing bear problems in your home and neighborhood:

  1. Garbage – Store garbage and animal feed inside buildings or in bear-resistant containers. Keep your garbage secured until the morning of your scheduled pickup. Encourage neighbors to do the same.
  2. Gardens and Compost – Plant gardens out in the open, away from cover. Avoid composting meat and turn your compost over frequently. Finely chopped fruit and vegetable matter will decompose faster and is less likely to attract bears. A quality electric fence used properly can keep bears out of gardens and compost piles, and  away from buildings and domestic animals.
  3. Livestock and beehives – Domestic animals, including chickens, may attract bears. Secure your livestock behind electric fences, as well as bee hives.  Bears will eat both the bees and honey.
  4. Bird feeders – Bears love to eat birdseed and suet. Take down bird feeders from April through October. Clean up dropped seeds and hulls.
  5. Barbecues – Regularly clean barbecue grills, especially the grease trap, after each use.
  6. Pets – Feed pets indoors or pick up excess and spilled food between meals and clean all pet dishes.  Avoid overfeeding chicken and other fowl so that no food remains on the ground.
  7. Freezers – Keep freezers locked in a secure building or otherwise out of reach of bears.

A new Washington State Law prohibits the feeding of carnivores, including bears, either intentionally or negligently. Involved parties may be subject to a $1000 fine.  Bears that become habituated to humans and the food they provide are labeled as “problem bears”.  If such bears cannot be successfully relocated far away from human food provided sources of food, they can become repeat offenders. “A fed bear is a dead bear”.

Keep your family and Washington’s bears safe: Be Bear Aware.

Chris Morgan Live at Mount Baker Theater in Bellingham

Posted By Lorna Smith, WWO Executive Director

Are you planning to be in Bellingham in February? You should!

Join Western Wildlife Outreach Founder, PBS & BBC TV host and narrator Chris Morgan for an afternoon of adventure, fun, and fascination!

From Andean bears on the equator to Siberian tigers in the Russian frontier, this carnivore ecologist and global adventurer has spent over 20 years immersing himself among the wildlife of every continent. His engaging and authentic on-camera presence has brought him hosting and narration work seen on PBS Nature, BBC, National Geographic Television, and the Discovery Channel, along with an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. His year-long odyssey across the Arctic Circle by motorcycle was featured in the three-part miniseries Bears of the Last Frontier.

Now, the Bellingham local eagerly invites you to join him for a very special live show created just for his own hometown. Witness epic, never-before-seen footage from an exciting array of international locations, including Siberia, Peru, the Arctic, Alaska, and Borneo. Experience Chris’s all-at-once hilarious and moving stories from the field, enjoy the rare opportunity to see some lively bloopers, and be one of the first to hear about Chris’ new movie and campaign for the bears of the world. Not your typical nature talk, this unique event is something completely different and completely engaging. Says Chris, “This show will appeal to everyone – there’s adventure, culture, natural history – even motorbikes!”

Chris Morgan Live: On the Wild Side

Notes from the Field

Filming Crew for Bears of the Last Frontier
The gigantic film crew for Bears of the Last Frontier:
Chris Morgan, Brenda Phillips, Dean Cannon, Joe Pontecorvo, and Nim Pontecorvo during episode 1, ‘City of Bears’.


By Chris Morgan, WWO Founder and Senior Advisor

I want to reach out to all my friends at Western Wildlife Outreach and let them know what I am up to these days. My film career on behalf of bears and other threatened wildlife has taken me around the world to some fascinating places working with incredibly dedicated people. Right now, I am in the Arctic filming Polar bears with my long-time friend and cameraman, Joe Pontecorvo. I am often asked how large our film crew is when we are out on remote locations.

Joe is is pretty much it on 95% of the shows – he has a knack of covering a lot of material with just one camera. And we love to keep the crew small, low impact, and nimble. This time we also have some spectacular help from Brenda Phillips who came in to film some of the scenes with her Canon 5D, and Dean Cannon joined us for a few days to shoot second camera. When working on “Bears of the Last Frontier”, Dean was out filming Anchorage bears when Joe and I had to be elsewhere. Dean is also a specialist with the ‘Phantom’ which is a super high speed camera that gets mind-blowing slow motion shots (like those slow mo’s of the salmon and the bears charging through the water in “Bears of the Last Frontier”).

Nim Pontecorvo was on location most of the time as sound person. Then of course there is lot’s of help behind the scenes and during editing! Keep your eye out for more of our films this year. I’m working on a brand new BBC bear series with some amazing film makers from the Planet Earth team this year which will be pretty epic. I will keep you all posted on my upcoming special full length film, “Bear Trek” which should be released and in theaters this coming year. You can see a trailer for it here:


PBS Special Bears of the Last Frontier Today! (7/11/2012) on KCTS 9 at 8 pm

If you missed the first opportunity,  here’s your chance! And here is what our founder, Chris Morgan, had to say on the PBS website about his experience of making this film with filmmaker Joe Pontecorvo.  To see a preview, go to http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/bears-of-the-last-frontier/introduction/6524/

 It’s finally here — time for us to share our incredible Alaskan adventure with the world through Bears of the Last Frontier. It has been quite the journey. The film has been nearly two years in the making, and for both of us it has become an unforgettable part of our lives. Over the course of a year and a half we traveled well over 3000 miles across Alaska and shot 500 hours of footage for this epic three-hour PBS Nature series. We spent many, many months in bear country – piecing together the lives of these fascinating animals by observing and filming them, and by living in bear country, among the animals and people that share bear habitat.

When Joe and I met nearly ten years ago (coincidentally in Alaska) our minds reeled with the possibilities for collaboration. A filmmaker and an ecologist, and a combined dream to have a huge impact for wildlife conservation through the magic of film. The opportunity to work with PBS Nature has been a dream, and has resulted in three beautiful episodes we hope you’ll love.

We’ve both worked all over the world for the last twenty plus years — Joe as an award-winning wildlife filmmaker, and me as a conservation ecologist. Joe has created dazzling films on an array of epic subjects — from tigers to Asian elephants, and my work has focused on wildlife research and environmental education — mostly about the bears of the world. I’ve also guided hundreds of people on expeditions to see polar bears and grizzly bears. We’ve both witnessed the powerful emotions that these animals can trigger in people, which is why they make such great representatives for conservation, and such great characters in film!

Alaska harbors all three of North America’s bear species, from three hundred pound black bears to polar and brown bears weighing well over half a ton. It is home to the highest mountain on the continent, vast glaciers, immense forests, and a level of isolation that can be found nowhere else in the United States.

And it’s big. This northernmost state is the same size as the next three largest states combined (California, Texas and Montana).

Alaska’s wilderness allowed us to step back in time on a journey that took us through five major ecosystems and the habitats of its three bear species. It was also a journey that put us to the test as we hiked, camped and lived among the biggest bears in the world, chased black bears through the streets of Anchorage, followed grizzlies on the prowl for immense caribou herds, and searched for polar bears miles out on the pack ice. In every one of these locations bears have adapted impressively to their surroundings.

We’re hoping that, as you wander through this website and sink yourself into the series, you will feel immersed in the world of the bear. It is a truly wondrous place.

We also hope that you might be inspired to learn more. Bears represent wildness more than any other species, but we cannot take that wildness for granted — it will take determination, passion, and imagination to ensure that future generations can enjoy a world that includes bear habitat.

Be sure to check out the wonderful organizations listed under resources for ways to learn more. We’re all in this together. And remember — what’s good for bears, is good for people!

We’re so glad you’re along for the adventure!

Chris Morgan, Ecologist