Grizzly Bears Emerging from Hibernation


The following article was posted in USA TODAY:

by Chuck Raasch

Yellowstone National Park rangers are preparing for the upcoming tourist season by updating bear-warning signs and stepping up grizzly-awareness education after two hikers died in separate grizzly attacks in the park last summer.

The deaths of men from Michigan and California, the first in 25 years, reflect a rising trend of human-bear encounters in North America, as the populations of grizzlies and black bears have increased and as humans have encroached on their habitat.

Yellowstone officials had contemplated making it mandatory that hikers travel in groups and carry bear-repellant pepper spray, park spokesman Dan Hottle says, but enforcement would have been difficult, so Yellowstone officials are updating bear-warning signs, and park publications feature ways to avoid confrontations. Rangers will conduct bear-spray demonstrations.

“Encounters are most definitely a fact of life” as the grizzly population grows, Hottle says.

These encounters are not just in wild places anymore. Wildlife officials from New Jersey to California will meet Monday in Missoula, Mont., to discuss how cities, states and parks can deal with growing bear populations.

“What we can do as managers to minimize those conflicts is to educate people how to live with bears,” says organizer Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Growing numbers

Servheen estimates that the grizzly population in the 48 contiguous states has increased from about 500 in 1975 to 1,700, with roughly a third in or near Yellowstone, and the others scattered elsewhere in the West. The federal government considers them threatened, but not the 35,000-40,000 grizzlies in Alaska.

Meanwhile, the North American black bear population, spread across 41 states and Canada, has risen from below 600,000 in 1989 to at least 800,000, according to estimates by Servheen and others.

Canadian bear expert Hank Hristienko reported that the black bear population in 26 states bordering or east of the Mississippi River increased 87{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} between 1988 and 2008. Some states have bear-hunting seasons to control populations.

A 2008 survey by Hristienko and Linda Olver, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources bear ecologist, showed human-bear encounters rising in 20 of the 26 states either bordering or east of the Mississippi River. As bear habitat and populations have expanded, human-bear encounters have become more common in cities as disparate as Longwood, Fla., where last year a black bear was caught swimming in a family’s hot tub; to Missoula, where one was captured after trying to enter the city’s airport.

Yellowstone and other parks advise hikers and campers to not go alone; take pepper spray; avoid odorous food and pack tightly what food you take; make noise to avoid surprising a bear; hang food high in trees if camping. If a grizzly is encountered, hikers should not run, but passively back away and, if about to be attacked, lie down and cover up.

One of last year’s Yellowstone victims tried to run, and the other was alone, according to reports. A female grizzly was euthanized after park officials determined she had killed one victim and may have killed the other. The deaths in the 2.2-million-acre park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho increased to seven the number of recorded fatalities from grizzlies since the park was established in 1872.

A 2009 study led by bear-attack specialist Stephen Herrero concluded that 63 people had been killed by black bears in North America since 1900, and 86{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} occurred after 1960.

Reports of ‘urban bears’

Since the 1970s, bear-protection programs and better habitat have raised the bear populations, while urban sprawl and wilderness hiking and camping have pushed people into bears’ habitats. Hristienko says a warming climate may be lessening the stress of winter hibernation, helping to boost average black-bear litters from two to three cubs.

Between 2005 and 2010, reports of human and black-bear encounters in Florida more than doubled, to about 12 calls a day. The state’s bear population is estimated at 3,000, roughly 10 times that of the 1970s. Mike Orlando, assistant bear program coordinator for Florida Fish and Wildlife, says many are “urban bears.”

After years of pushing bears into smaller wild spaces, Orlando says, “bears have pushed back, and they are actually moving into the communities.”

Experts preach ways to stop attracting bears: secure garbage, don’t leave pet food out, don’t fill bird feeders in active-bear seasons and fence gardens and fruit trees. Servheen says many people still resist changing behavior that might attract a hungry bear to a backyard, or ignore warnings about how to avoid them in the wild.

“In general, we think people are easier to train than bears,” Servheen says, “but not always so.”


Source:  USA Today

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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