Bear Ground:Grizzly Bear Conservation Issues

Course Overview:

The purpose of Northwest Connections courses is to provide university students and interested citizens with opportunities to learn about ecology and environmental studies in the field while collaborating with us on long term ecological monitoring and restoration projects. Students in our Bear Ground course assist NwC with monitoring the presence and distribution of grizzly bears inside and outside of established linkage zones in the Swan Valley.

Bear Ground students study the habitat requirements of grizzly bears in the field. They learn to identify species of flora utilized by bears as well as track and sign of fauna on which the bears depend seasonally. Students learn how to identify grizzly bear tracks, bear rub trees and sign of bear foraging. They practice erecting and monitoring remote camera stations and how to collect bear hair for DNA analysis from field snag stations. They also learn techniques for radio telemetry studies of bears and explore the ethical and biological ramifications of low impact vs. conventional bear monitoring techniques.

Students begin each day with a mini-lecture on a topic relevant to grizzly bear conservation then spend all day in the field with instructors and guest speakers. Speakers include bear biologists, forest managers, and local residents. During field sessions, students learn to assist NwC staff in conducting track and sign surveys for grizzly bears. Data collected assists public and private land owners monitor the success of the Swan Valley Grizzly Bear Conservation Agreement.

The culminating activity for the group is to develop their own management plan for grizzly bears in the Swan Valley for 50 years with a given budget. Their plan includes but is not limited to: managing grizzly-human conflicts, doing public outreach and education, ensuring habitat conservation (and restoration where needed), mitigating for infringements on private lands, and monitoring genetic viability of the Swan Valley/Mission Mountains grizzly subpopulation. The intent of this assignment is to raise awareness of the financial and political realities of threatened and endangered species management.


The Bear Ground reader includes readings from Rick Mace, Chris Servheen, Kristi Pelletier, Dave Mattson, Chuck Jonkel, Ernest Thompson Seton, Dave Mattson, Jim Halfpenny, Kate Kendall, Frank and John Craighead, The Mountaineers, David Rockwell, Hank Fischer, David Lee, Mike Madel, Tim Their and a number of agency publications.

Course Itinerary:

Day 1 -- Introduction to Grizzly Bear Conservation

Introductions -- students/staff

Field Session : Habitats of the Swan Valley -- Tree/shrub/plant I.D.

Evening Session: "Grizzly Bears: Past, Present, Future" -- Charles Jonkel

Day 2 -- Habitats Diversity and Connectivity

Lecture: "Biodiversity in the Swan Valley"

Field Session: Riparian plant inventory

Evening Session: "Ecosystem Management and Grizzly Bears" Vernon La Fontaine, wildlife biologist for Swan Lake Ranger District

Day 3 -- Bear Biology and Autoecology

Lecture: "Bear I.D.: Observation, Track and Sign"

Field Session: Track surveys

Evening Session: "Grizzly Bear ecology in N. Rockies--Rick Mace, FWP biologist

Day 4 -- Monitoring Grizzly Bears

Lecture: "Techniques used to monitor grizzlies"

Field Session: Remote Camera Sets/ Map and compass work

Evening Speaker: Community perspectives on Grizzly Bears -- Mike Lake, Swan Citizens Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Road Management, Bud Moore participant in subcommitte to write Swan Citizens Private Lands Agreement.

Day 5 -- Threatened and Endangered Species Management

Lecture: "Letter and Intent of the Endangered Species Act"

Field Session: Road monitoring

Evening Session: "Recovering Grizzly Bears: Delisting and Reintroduction Issues" Chris Servheen, USFWS

Day 6 -- Swan Valley Conservation Agreement

Lecture: "Grizzly Bear Linkage Zones and the SVCA"

Field Session: Hair Snagging Stations

Evening Session: "Corporate Responsibility for Endangered Species" Brian Gilbert, Plum Creek Timber Co.

Day 7 -- Grizzly Bear Management in the 21st Century

Students work on final project

Students present final project

Course evaluation/Conclusion

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