Glacier National Park Embarking on Long-term Grizzly Bear Study

How many grizzlies live in the ecosystem that includes Glacier National Park? Is the species on the upswing, or declining? A new study will help answer those questions. NPS photo.

Without doubt, Glacier National Park is in the heart of one of the wildest ecosystems in the lower 48 United States -- the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. But how wild is it when it comes to grizzly bears? A new study will help answer that question.

You could debate for quite a while which national park -- Glacier or Yellowstone -- has a more enthralling wild kingdom. Both, arguably, have the full assemblage of prey and predators that roamed those landscapes in the 18th century.

Going through their resident species is akins to playing wildlife bingo: wolves, grizzlies, black bears, elk, moose, deer, coyotes, mountain lions, etc, etc, etc. While Yellowstone has bison, Glacier has a higher number, and more readily visible, number of mountain goats.

Both have a relatively good number of grizzlies. Now a long-term interagency study of grizzly bears in Glacier will help wildlife biologists get a better idea of the health of the grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Is it on the upswing, steady, or declining?

To collect this information, "bait stations, automated cameras, and traps will be used to capture and monitor grizzly bears within the park," according to a Glacier press release. "The program attempts to maintain a sample of up to 10 radio-marked female grizzly bears out of an estimated population of 300 grizzly bears living in the park."

In an effort to keep park visitors away from bears, the bait stations and trap sites "will be marked with brightly colored warning and closure signs. For safety reasons visitors are reminded to heed and comply with these signs and not enter areas closed for baiting or trapping," the park release said.

There's good reason for these warnings. Last June a man hiking just outside of Yellowstone was fatally mauled by a grizzly that just a short while before had been trapped and drugged by biologists gathering information.

In Glacier, the trapping efforts will continue at various locations from now through October. If you have any questions about the program, you can contact park bear biologist, John Waller, at (406) 888-7829.

Comments

When will we have enough data to strop harassing grizzly bears? We stop along the road to watch them feed and get told by the park service to move along, dont bother the bears, but when it comes time to "management" them the NPS uses darts, traps, slings, tapes, and clipboards . . . I hope people realize that we know enough to know how to deal with grizzly bears. Give them room to roam, leave their food along, and stay out of their faces with traps, and darts and they will do just fine . . . BTW, what difference will it make to anyone if we know more about these particular sows? What will they do to improve the lives of bears and people as a result. We already know what’s killing bears and yet we do little to nothing about it . . . It's bad enough that the trains kill bears - we know that but still do little about it - at the end of the day, this study will do at least one thing to the population. It will cause it to go down. We will learn yet again that we have bears, they need space, they like to graze on green stuff and eat a dead thing now and then, they like to be left alone, they mate in june, and basically take care of themselves if left alone. Aggressive management strategies will cause some bears to die as a result of being trapped and collared. It's kind of a shame . . . If we knew nothing about grizzly bears in the glacier park ecosystem, it might make sense to risk a few more bears by trapping and collaring them, but that's not the case here, we know enough, just leave them be already . . .

The other part of the equation they don't tell you about is that bears die from being darted. It is not as exact a science as watching nature shows on tv would have you believe. The reality is that it is always a guessing game, and bears die in the name of "science."
Some study has to be done, but I agree with the general sentiment - leave them alone. And I have worked in the field.