Interagency Teams To Search For North Cascades Grizzlies


WENATCHEE—Teams of wildlife biologists will begin an effort this month to genetically identify grizzly bears in the North Cascades and determine the extent of their range.

U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Western Transportation Institute biologists will complete the study using remote-controlled cameras and hair snares at more than 75 sites spread across about 9,500 square miles in North Central Washington.

The study could be extended another two years depending upon funding, which is being provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service.

The North Cascades recovery area includes one of the largest contiguous blocks of federal land in the lower 48 states, stretching from the Canadian border south to Interstate 90. It encompasses the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and North Cascades National Park. Much of it lies in rugged, remote country such as the Pasayten, Alpine Lakes and Glacier Peak Wilderness Areas.

Scientists with the North Cascades Interagency Grizzly Bear Technical Team will select study sites based upon knowledge of quality grizzly habitat, accessibility to remote sites and frequency of reputable sightings.

The last confirmed sighting in the area occurred in 1996 in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. The current status and distribution of grizzly bears in the North Cascades has not been surveyed for several years and is one of the objectives of the study.

Another interagency team of scientists completed a smaller search for North Cascades grizzlies in 2000 when they completed a study using hair snares on both sides of the border and documented one grizzly bear in Southern British Columbia.

North Cascades ecosystem grizzlies have been protected in both countries for decades, but the population has not recovered from extremely low numbers. Scientists estimate the international population of North Cascades grizzlies to be less than 25 to 30 animals.

“This analysis is timely because the information will assist future North Cascades grizzly recovery efforts,” said Bill Gaines, Ph.D., an Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest wildlife biologist who is leading the team with Chris Servheen, Ph.D., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator.

Other team leaders include Robert Long, Ph.D., with the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Scott Fitkin.

Gaines said detection team members will be working in remote sections of wilderness areas or the North Cascades National Park, primarily away from established trails.

“They’ll have quite a summer, backpacking into remote places for several days at a stretch to check snares and cameras,” he said.

The use of snares to collect hair for DNA sampling has become a widely used and accepted technique in wildlife management, according to Gaines. The snares only snag hair samples and do not harm the animals.

He said DNA analysis can identify individual grizzly bears, determine their sex and even measure stress levels. It is also much safer to conduct research this way, rather than traditional mark and recapture techniques that place scientists and grizzlies in close proximity, Gaines said.

Gaines, Servheen, Long, Fitkin and other experienced wildlife biologists will train and supervise detection team members to ensure data quality control for all hair samples. In addition, all team leaders will be managers with federal agencies.

Team members will also deploy remote cameras at some sites to record visits by grizzlies that do not leave hair on snares.

Contacts:  Okanogan-Wenatchee N.F. Wildlife Biologist Bill Gaines, Ph.D., 509-664-9232
Okanogan-Wenatchee N.F. Public Affairs Officer Roland Giller, 509-664-9314
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service External Affairs Supervisor Doug Zimmer, 360-753-4370