Coexistence in Bear Country
For many, coming in contact with a black or grizzly bear in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park can be a very humbling and rewarding experience. Every year, thousands of visitors are given the chance to view these bears in their wild habitats. However, once you move across the park boundaries, you often come into contact with National Forest land, or public lands leased for agricultural purposes, even private ranches (livestock, etc.).
Coexistence in bear country is an issue that has been brought into the spotlight over the past several years. As grizzlies expand their occupied range, and move into areas absent of their presence for decades, home owners, ranchers and farmers alike face issues such as property damage and even livestock depredation. Whether you manage an orchard, or raise livestock, chances are you may fall victim to the presence of bears either now or in the near future. Understanding principles of coexistence and using proper preventative techniques can help mitigate the chance for possible damage.
Home and Cabin Owners: Preventative techniques and measures home owners can take are fairly simple and easy to act on. For homes where fruit bearing trees are present, it is important to harvest ripe fruit and fruit that may fall to the ground; this will reduce the risk of attracting bears. Promptly removing garden refuse is also very important as it can serve as a bear attractant. While many home owners enjoy the presence of song birds at feeders, not using bird feeders or bird suet from March through November can reduce bear attraction to a residence. Highly aromatic garbage removed from inside a residence can be a very strong bear attractant, especially when containing meat scraps, or fish. To minimize the chance of a bear making a mess by getting into your garbage, use bear resistant garbage cans to dispose of your waste. If you are a cabin owner, you should take special precautions to reinforce windows and doors. Bears have immense strength and can easily break in a window or door when motivated. If cooking outside your cabin, you should clean grills, picnic tables, and ensure all food scraps are gone. This also helps reduce the presence of ants or bees, which can attract bears, leading them to create or cause property damage.
Livestock and Agriculture: Preventative techniques and practices to minimize disturbance to livestock and agricultural operations, are important to reduce bear-livestock depredation and property damage. Animals that give birth, must be securely confined, housed, and protected to reduce risk of bear attraction. It is also critical to remove or secure all afterbirth and carcass materials. Poultry and livestock housing including pet kennels, should be erected 150 feet from areas of cover. Electric barriers around these confined units are strongly encouraged for deterring bears. Fencing is an important component while protecting livestock, and beekeeping operations. Implementing electric wires into fencing is very effective at deterring bears. Electric fences should be composed of 9 wires, and begin approximately 4 inches from the ground. To protect beehives and orchards, compost piles and gardens, individuals should construct electric fences at a minimum of 3 feet tall, wires spaced at most 10 inches apart. In some circumstances, it is important that fencing extends underground. At least 2 feet of fencing should be underground to create an apron, so that when a bear attempts to dig under the exposed area of fencing, that action is inhibited. Group beehives should be protected by using 6 foot tall livestock panels, or as an alternative, 6 inch square mesh fencing with an additional electric fence layer. Another method for protecting hives is using 15-20 foot tall platforms with support poles wrapped in sheet metal.
While hunting, camping, or recreating in the backcountry of bear country, portable electric fencing units are also effective and encouraged. These same electric fence units also work for stock camps.
In eligible counties within Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, Defenders of Wildlife will compensate 50% of the cost for electric fencing to prevent grizzly bear access to livestock, attractants (garbage, orchards, beehives).
---Dohner, J. V. (2017). The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators: Protect Your Livestock, Poultry, and Pets; Identify the Tracks and Signs of More Than 30 Predators; Learn about Each Predator's Traits and Behaviors. Storey Publishing.---
FLIR Imaging and the future
While conducting research in the field, it should be the researchers last resort to place hands on wildlife. Reducing the amount of handling is critical. Similarly to humans, wildlife have numerous pressing stressors and threats in their everyday lives, and habitat they call home. Every second they are under anesthesia, and restrained, is time they will never get back. When they are captured and in our presence, we must bear in mind (no pun intended) that we are on their clock. A smooth, quick, and efficient handling process can assist in minimal disruption to the animal while returning it back to its habitat and home.
Collaring wildlife, especially bears and wolves has been disputed by many, including the public and researchers. While many see collars being invasive and cumbersome to wildlife, they are an important tool to wildlife management and research. Without the data gathered from these devices, we wouldn't understand a great deal of the information we have today (travel indices, locations, activity monitoring, home ranges, etc.) To the advantage of these wonderful pieces of equipment, a good majority of modern day GPS or radio collars have increased battery life, and technology to attempt and mitigate the need to re-collar an animal more frequently. Some collars are now designed as CRT, or known as commanded-released technology. This feature causes a collar to be dropped off an animal by a certain date, allowing for retrieval by researchers. However, some collars can give real time data; this is most GPS collars.
A recently published study "Detecting Denning Polar Bears with Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) Imagery" uses both satellite and VHF transmitters fixed on the bears, in combination with FLIR technology. Polar bears emit approximately 200 watts of heat energy while denning; dens are 30 degrees celsius higher than ambient levels; surface areas over top dens averaged 10 degree celsius warmer, than those in snowbanks adjacent to the den. The researchers in this study hypothesized they would be able to detect these signatures using FLIR technology, and they were successful.
This sort of technology could potentially, further minimize the handling of bears or other wildlife. FLIR technology in combination with aerial flights could allow for increase in better observability and add to current ecological survey methods.
---Amstrup, S. C., York, G., McDonald, T. L., Nielson, R., & Simac, K. (2004). Detecting denning polar bears with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imagery. AIBS Bulletin, 54(4), 337-344.---
Tyler Brasington is a native born and raised Pennsylvanian, yet proud current Wisconsin resident. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a B.S. in Environmental Science. Currently, Tyler is pursuing his masters in Natural Resources with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He has worked in Yellowstone National Park under the guidance and supervision of Dr. George Clokey and Dr. Jim Halfpenny.
Disclaimer: The information and views expressed on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Interior, US Geological Survey, National Park Service or the United States Government.
The Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Project
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