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Bears Are Waking Up

April 15th, 2014

Grizzly Emerging from Den

Grizzly bear emerging from a den

By Monica Perez-Watkins

It’s that time of year again–bears are beginning to leave their dens and emerge from hibernation after the long winter we’ve had here in Montana. A few males are already out, we’ve even heard reports of fresh bear tracks, but most females, especially those with new or yearling cubs, are still in their dens. Female bears are the first to enter the den in the winter and the last to emerge in the spring; baby bears require extra energy and protection!

During this special time of the year, it is very important to remember to practice bear safety, both at your home and the outdoors. Remember, bears emerge from their dens very hungry and a garbage bin put out the night before pickup provides an easy, yet deadly, meal for a bear. Birdfeeders attract bears, too, so please take your birdfeeder in for the season if you live in bear country. A bear found in a residential area is given only one chance. It’s first time caught, it’s ear-tagged and relocated, but the second time, the marked bear is euthanized. It’s up to us to make sure this doesn’t happen! Remembering bear safety is especially salient this week with the horrible news coming out of Florida: several black bears have been euthanized after a woman was attacked by a bear digging through her garbage. We don’t need to see this happen in Montana (or in any state!). By taking extra precautions with garbage, pet food, compost, and gardens, we can keep bears (and people) safe and out of trouble.

Also, don’t forget to carry bear spray while hiking, especially since it has been proven to be 98% effective in bear attacks. GBF encourages the use of Counter Assault brand bear spray, which comes out in a large cone shape that creates a cloud for the bear to enter. Dr. Jonkel, GBF’s co-founder and President, was involved in this spray’s testing and knows it’s efficacy first-hand.

After preparing to keep bears and yourself safe, please join us in welcoming bears back from their winter slumber at our annual Bear Honoring event! This year’s event will occur the weekend of May 2-4th and will be held in Missoula, Pablo, the Mission Mountains, and Glacier National Park. Participants will find and eat bear foods, watch a Powwow and bear dance, look for signs of bears, and learn about bears and their habitat.

Bear Honoring is free and open to the public, with donations accepted. Click here for more information on Bear Honoring.

Honor the Polar Bear

February 27th, 2014

Polar Bear Closeup by Frank Tyro

Photo by Frank Tyro

February 27th is International Polar Bear Day, and it’s a good time to honor the polar bear, take some time to learn about the animal and its habitat, and to take concrete steps to conserve the polar bear and its natural habitat.

Polar bears have faced numerous threats over the years, including overharvest by humans, and contamination by toxic chemicals like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). PCBs are a neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor once widely used in coolants, insulators, and other industrial materials, that seriously affect the fertility of polar bears and can be passed on to cubs during nursing. Those threats were grave, but addressing them was relatively manageable. The Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, signed by all five polar bear nations in Oslo in 1973, established regulations on polar bear hunting, while protecting indigenous people’s rights to traditional and subsistence hunts. This was the first international agreement to address the conservation of polar bears, and it went a long way to protect polar bear populations worldwide. GBF President and co-founder, Dr. Charles Jonkel, was among the team that drafted that agreement, often cited as one of the most successful efforts to conserve polar bears to date. Global restrictions on the production and use of PCBs have significantly reduced the levels of PCB-related contaminants found in polar bears and other marine mammals. A study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) of polar bears in Svalbard found that, after PCBs were banned or restricted by several industrialized nations, PCB levels in the bears studied dropped by nearly 59% over a 10 year period.

These successes in polar bear conservation remind us that, armed with scientific knowledge and the will to make real policy changes, we can successfully address some of the serious threats to wildlife and habitat. Today’s problems, particularly loss of sea ice due to climate change, seem overwhelming. Climate change is a massive issue, and it can often feel abstract, far away, and hopeless. How can one person address such a huge problem? And is it too late? And what about the other threats to polar bears and their habitat, like increased industry and shipping in the Arctic, exploitative tourism, food-conditioning, and increases in human-bear conflict?

Yes, it is overwhelming. And, some of these things may be too far gone to reel back in. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t make things better. We can take the small daily steps necessary to cut back on our fossil fuel consumption, but is that enough? Maybe not, but the waves we create by taking those steps just might be enough to effect positive change. Choosing to do the right thing, and to make real lifestyle changes to simplify, and to live more gently within our environment is the best possible example we can create to start changing attitudes, to communicate to our friends, neighbors, families, and coworkers that we care about the natural wonders of our world, from polar bears to our fellow humans that we share this planet with. Attitude and lifestyle changes are just what we need to better share this planet, and to give one another the hope that maybe our actions can make some difference, even in the small circles around us.

And at the same time, we work for policy changes to curb our fossil fuel use, transition to greener energy, eat more locally and mindfully, and to live more gently within our own habitat. Maybe future generations will still live in a world with wild polar bears. We have the technology, we have the resources, but what we really need is the will to make real changes to stop destroying our own habitat, and the habitats of other creatures we share this planet with.

Please take a moment today to honor the polar bear. And, while you do that, think about what you can do to lighten your footprint. What we really need, more than a day dedicated to polar bears, is to make a choice to live more gently, and to follow through with that choice.

The Great Bear Foundation is offering two arctic ecology field courses in Churchill, Manitoba this year, in August and November. If you are interested in learning about the polar bear in its natural habitat, click here or contact us at gbf@greatbear.org for more information. All proceeds directly fund bear conservation and education.

Arctic Summer Ecology Field Course on Hudson Bay

February 11th, 2014

Beluga Tale by Frank Tyro

Beluga in the Churchill River. Photo by Frank Tyro

Belugas, Berries and Bears: Arctic Summer Ecology Field Course, Churchill, Manitoba
August 9-19, 2014 from Missoula, MT
August 10-18 from Winnipeg

Join the Great Bear Foundation on our summer journey to discover the natural and cultural history of Churchill on Hudson Bay. The tundra comes alive in the summertime, with wildflowers, abundant berries, migratory birds, whales, and wildlife. In August, the mosquitoes die down, the tundra turns amazing colors, and the nights start to get dark enough to see the northern lights on clear nights. Polar bears have come in off the ice and disperse across the landscape, and the beluga whales have their calves in the Churchill River. It’s a magical time to go north.

We will travel overland by bus and train to reach Churchill, and spend our days exploring tundra, beach, and boreal forest, watching wildlife, picking berries, beach-combing, and learning about the rich natural and cultural history of Churchill and Hudson Bay.

This field course is taught by Dr. Frank Tyro of Salish Kootenai College, who has been traveling to Hudson Bay with the Great Bear Foundation for 30 years. Visit our field courses page for more information on this and other Great Bear Foundation field courses.

The Great Bear Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and all proceeds from our field courses directly support bear conservation.

Click here to download a registration form and more information about the course, or contact us for more information.

Registration for our 2014 Polar Bear Ecology Field Course is Now Open

January 7th, 2014

Polar Bear By Frank Tyro

Polar Bear Silhouette by Frank Tyro

Join us on our 2014 journey to Churchill, Manitoba, to witness the annual polar bear migration. Each fall, after 3-4 months on land in the ice-free season, the polar bears of western Hudson Bay migrate to Cape Churchill, to wait for the first ice to form. The cold north wind pushes freshwater ice from the Churchill River against the shore to form a shelf, where the sea ice will begin to form. In October and November, polar bears arrive from all over Western Hudson Bay and converge at Cape Churchill, waiting to return to the ice, where they can hunt their staple food source, the ringed seal.

The Great Bear Foundation has been bringing groups north to observe and learn about polar bears in their natural habitat for thirty years. We offer a high quality, conservation-based learning experience for people of all ages and backgrounds. We have led the way in low-impact bear-viewing that is highly sensitive to the needs and well-being of the wildlife for three decades. This is a unique opportunity to observe polar bears in their natural habitat with a group dedicated to bear conservation and education.

We hope you will join us on our 2014 field course. Click here to download information and a registration form. To register, please return the registration form on the last page, with a $250 deposit (refundable up to September 1, 2014) to the Great Bear Foundation, PO Box 9383, Missoula MT 59807. Or contact us for more info.

Happy New Year from the Great Bear Foundation

December 30th, 2013

Brown Bear in Grass, Mikfik Creek

Alaskan Brown Bear by Shannon Donahue

Happy New Year!

Thank you for supporting the Great Bear Foundation in our work to protect bears and their habitats world-wide, through education and on-the-ground projects. Your continued support will help us to work with communities to prevent human-bear conflict, to provide high quality educational programs to schools and community groups, and to keep the public informed on important issues in bear conservation and ways to take action.

Let’s make 2014 a successful year for bear conservation. Here are some ways you can help:

>>Become a member! GBF is a member-supported organization, with membership levels for all budgets. Membership contributions are tax-deductible within the US to the full extent of the law. Be part of the GBF team!

>>Donate to one of our projects:

>>Bears & Apples organizes volunteers to pick fruit in residential areas, reducing bear attractants to prevent human-bear conflict, and distributing locally grown fruit to the community. Make a donation to help keep this program running strong, or contribute supplies for the project–we are always in need of ladders, orchard poles, and materials for our cider press.
>>Bear Basics provides high quality educational programs free of charge to schools and communities in western Montana and Haines, Alaska. We’re happy to travel further for programs, but will need help with travel expenses. Your contribution can help us deliver more programs to children and communities!
>>Walking Bear Comes Home: The life and work of Charles Jonkel is a documentary film we are making with Salish Kootenai College Media on GBF president and co-founder, Dr. Charles Jonkel, and his historic contributions to bear biology and conservation. The film is in the editing stages, and your contribution can help us with production costs. Click here to see the film trailer.

>>Enroll in a field course!

Our bear ecology field courses offer a high quality educational experience observing bears in their natural habitat. Participants learn the basics of bear behavior and ecology, while exploring their habitats, learning to recognize bear sign, and learning about the natural and cultural history of the area, while also learning how to explore bear country with minimal impact on the animals and their habitat. All proceeds from our field courses directly fund our bear conservation projects.
>>Polar Bear Ecology Field Course Join us in November as we travel to Churchill, Manitoba to observe the annual polar bear migration on the shores of Hudson Bay. Learn about polar bears in their natural environment, while also learning about the natural and cultural history of Hudson Bay, the numerous threats to polar bears and their habitat, and what you can do to help.
>>Berries, Belugas, and Bears Visit Hudson Bay with us in August, when the belugas calve in the Churchill River, the tundra comes alive with berries and wildflowers, nights get dark enough to see the aurora, and we can usually find a few polar bears dispersed across the landscape.
>>Chilkoot River Bear Ecology Visit our northern location in Haines, Alaska to learn about the salmon-bear connection. Our custom, small group field courses offer the opportunity to watch Alaskan brown bears fish for salmon on the Chilkoot River. Contact us to build your custom Chilkoot River Bear Ecology program this summer or fall. Peak activity runs from late July through mid-September.

>>Volunteer! The Great Bear Foundation is a volunteer-driven organization, and we owe much of our success to our volunteers. You can help out with our Bears & Apples project, educational programs, or tasks around the office. Contact us to join our volunteer team in Missoula, Montana or Haines, Alaska!

Thank you for helping to make 2013 a successful year for bear conservation. We look forward to your continued support in 2014!

Happy New Year,

From all of us at the Great Bear Foundation

Happy Holidays from the Great Bear Foundation

December 20th, 2013

Photo taken by Jeremy Patrick on our 2013 Churchill trip

Photo taken by Jeremy Patrick on our 2013 Churchill trip

As 2013 comes to a close, we’d like to thank you for supporting the Great Bear Foundation, and our work conserving the world’s eight bear species and their habitats, though education and on-the-ground conservation projects. GBF is a member-supported, volunteer-driven organization, and we strive to keep our overhead costs low, so that donations, grants, and funds raised can go directly to our bear conservation projects. We appreciate your continued support, which we need now more than ever, as nonprofits face increasing economic challenges.

2013 was a big year for us. Most notably, we expanded our operations to include a Northern Office in Haines, Alaska, in addition to our main office in Missoula, Montana. The Alaska office is situated in close proximity to the Chilkoot River, a popular destination for observing bears as they fish for salmon. We are working hard on educational efforts on the Chilkoot River Corridor, helping bear-viewers and anglers to find ways to minimize their impacts on the bears and their habitat, while making the river safer for human visitors. In 2014, we hope to implement a new research project, monitoring the impacts of various human activities on the bears’ fishing success. We are also offering custom, small-group bear ecology field courses on the Chilkoot River during the salmon runs. These field courses not only offer the opportunity to observe and learn about bears in their natural habitat, but they also teach participants about threats to these bears, and how to observe bears in the wild with minimum impact on the animals and their habitat. Contact us for more information on field courses or other projects out of the Northern Office.

Speaking of field courses, our Polar Bear Ecology Field Course in Churchill, Manitoba, was a great success this year. We enjoyed excellent opportunities to observe polar bears during their annual migration to Cape Churchill. It was also a great year for observing arctic and red fox. We saw the northern lights on our train journey north, and participants learned about arctic ecology, geology, climate change, tundra and the boreal forest, and the history and cultures of local people on Hudson Bay. We owe a big thank you to our volunteers, Dr. Frank Tyro, Bob Mires, and Lori Lambert, who helped to make the field course so successful, and to recurring course participant, Jeremy Patrick, who kindly donates the use of his beautiful photographs, including the one above. Next year’s field course will run Nov 1-11 from Montana, or Nov 2-10 from Winnipeg. Contact us or visit our website to learn more and enroll.

Our Bears & Apples Project continued to successfully prevent conflicts between humans and bears in the Missoula area, thanks to our valuable volunteers who helped local residents to harvest domestic fruit from their yards so it wouldn’t attract bears to residential areas. All unwanted fruit went to volunteers, the Missoula Food Bank, and the Poverello Center, or was pressed into cider, making use of a healthy and delicious local food source. Thanks to grants from Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and Patagonia, as well as donations from our members, we were able to hire a full-time Bears & Apples Project Coordinator this year, and Monica Perez-Watkins did a great job organizing volunteers and managing the project.

GBF continues to offer our Bear Basics educational programs free of charge to schools and other interested groups in Western Montana and Haines, Alaska. We’re also happy to travel further to deliver these programs, but may need help with travel costs. Visit our website to make a donation to Bear Basics, or any of our other projects!

Our documentary project on GBF President and co-founder, Dr. Charles Jonkel is making progress, as we edit the volumes of excellent footage and interviews we’ve collected over the last few years. The project is a collaboration between GBF and Salish Kootenai College Media, and you can watch a preview of the film-in-progress here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeYPSEuQbss.

You can keep up with GBF and our ongoing projects by following our blog, where you can learn about issues concerning bears and their habitats, and what we are doing to address them. You can also follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greatbearfnd.

As always, we at the Great Bear Foundation appreciate your support of our work on behalf of the bears and their habitats. We are a member-supported organization, and we could not continue these projects without your help. 2013 posed increasing challenges for nonprofits across the country, as grant cycles were delayed or suspended, due to the economy and the government sequester and shutdown, and those grants that remained available were spread thinner to accommodate more organizations seeking help. Bears face ongoing and new threats, as human populations grow, and our communities expand into their habitats, building new homes and converting habitat to agricultural use. More people in bear habitat means more contact with bears, and we need to work harder all the time to prevent conflict between people and bears. Please remember us for your year-end giving. We are so grateful for all your support so far.

Thank you and Happy Holidays,

From all of us at the Great Bear Foundation

See our Archives for all past news.

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