The calendar tells me the end of March is nearing, and in the bear world this means one thing: Spring is around the corner and grizzly bears have begun to stir in their dens. Male bears will occasionally leave their dens in March, while females with young typically come out last, around May.
Bears typically den high up in the mountains where snow levels remain high in spring. Having not had a solid meal in approximately 5-7 months, and having lost up to 30% of their body weight, bears with very grumbling tummies descend into the valleys in search of food. Natural spring foods may include green vegetation such as grasses, glacier lilies and clover, as well more substantial meals like winter-killed deer and elk. It’s always a concern that bears will sniff out chickens in a backyard, or garbage or birdfeeders at someone’s home. Unbeknownst to the bears, these items are dangerous alternatives.
To prevent bears from damaging property and/or getting into unsecured attractants, as soon as bears rouse from their deep sleep, we begin our intensive field season. Our field team is accomplished at (and enjoys) implementing on-the-ground projects to prevent grizzly bears from coming into conflicts with people. Our skilled field technician directly assists residents with various projects on many species across our region, including grizzly bears, bison and wolves. Keep an eye out for fun blogs from our field teams throughout the year.
In 2014, Defenders once again will be offering our Electric Fencing Incentive program. This program offers 50% reimbursement for the cost of an electric fence around items that attract bears (garbage livestock, fruit trees, etc.) with a maximum reimbursement of $500. This program is incredibly popular and highly successful. Since 2010, more than 90 participants living in grizzly bear country have used our electric fencing to protect their chickens, livestock, fruit trees and garbage from bears. And the program is growing: We hope to complete up to 50 more bear-resistant fencing projects in 2014.
Before the projects, some of these locations had chronic problems with bears killing chickens and then being removed by management agencies due to human safety concerns – a situation that is as sad as it is avoidable. By utilizing bear-resistant electric fencing, landowners protect their property and improve human safety while also reducing the likelihood that a bear will be trapped and removed and/or killed for coming into conflict with people.
Human related mortality continues to be the number one threat facing grizzly bears, and electric fencing, while effective, is not a panacea for all issues facing grizzly bears. In addition to implementing bear-resistant electric fencing, we are actively working in communities with landowners, whether they like bears or not, to achieve a common goal of stopping bear-human conflicts from occurring. In addition to our electric fencing program, Defenders works with various partners on a number of preventative projects like range riders and livestock guard dogs for livestock producers, bear-resistant food storage lockers for campgrounds and bear-resistant garbage containers for neighborhoods and restaurants.
We are determined to positively impact the landscape, including securing safe grizzly bear habitat, giving them a fighting chance at long term recovery. This means a multi-pronged approach for our grizzly bear team. Defenders combats anti-grizzly legislation and follows closely any policy changes that may impact populations. Additionally, this spring, we’ll start gearing up our outreach and education programs to disseminate practical and useful information about why it is important that ecosystems and the lands that we live on include bears and other wildlife species, and how humans and wildlife can coexist. Our events often include hosting tables at festivals and fairs, but we also go into classrooms and create tailored presentations, free of charge, for groups of all ages and demographics. Tabling events are fun, with materials as well as hands-on activities, but kids programs are my favorite. Their wide eyes, open minds and insightful questions enthrall and entertain us all the time!
While spring this year will start just like any other field season for bears, we anticipate the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose delisting of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population, and potentially the Northern Continental Divide population as well. In 1975, grizzly bears in the lower 48 were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Intensive work by agencies, conservation groups and the public has resulted in a tremendous effort to bring Yellowstone grizzly bears back from only a couple hundred bears to over 600-700 today, and the Northern Continental Divide population is now estimated at close to 1,000 bears. Defenders will carefully review and comment on any delisting proposal and related science. We do know that it will take an ongoing, coordinated and dedicated effort by conservation organizations, agencies and those living, working and recreating in bear country to ensure a long-term future for grizzly bears.
Erin Edge, Rockies & Plains Representative