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Join us for a Summer Field Trip to the Arctic

March 20th, 2015

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
July 25-August 4, 2015 from Missoula, MT
July 26-August 3, 2015 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 for more information about the course, or contact us for more information.

Apples, and Pears, and Bears – Oh My

October 8th, 2014

Volunteers gleaning apples

A group of volunteers glean apples, pears, apricots, and plums from an orchard.

By Chris Olsen, Bears & Apples Coordinator

It is almost mid-October in the Missoula Valley, and that means the mornings are getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and Bears and Apples season is coming to a close.

The Bears and Apples program at the Great Bear Foundation began in 2001 with the goal of reducing human-bear conflict in the region. As fruit trees ripen in late summer and early fall, bears begin to head down from the mountains in search of easy and accessible food sources. This brings them into the residential areas to reap the benefit of backyard fruit trees. Once bears become accustomed to the high-calorie, low-effort food source they find in backyard fruit trees, it can be hard to break them of that habit. Wildlife managers will remove bears from these residential areas for the safety of the public. However, relocating bears is expensive and, often, the bear will return to the area immediately. This can result in the death of the bear.

Apples gleaned by volunteers

Volunteers get to keep as much fruit as they want from the gleaning trips. The remainder is donated to the Missoula Food Bank and other community groups.

In the Missoula Valley, fruit trees are the number one food attractant for bears. The Bears and Apples program is designed to remove the attractant before bears become accustomed to it. Removing the food source will remove the incentive for the bears to move into residential areas in search of food.

The Bears and Apples program had a highly successful 2014 season. With the help of over 100 interested volunteers, we were able to glean the fruit from over 100 fruit trees (apples, pears, plums, apricots) in the Missoula area. We primarily focused on the Rattlesnake area, but even made some trips out to Lolo and Arlee. From these trees we collected hundreds of pounds of fruit that went to volunteers, nonprofit partners, and the Missoula Food Bank.

Volunteers pressing cider

GBF Volunteer Coordinator, Chris Olsen, shows a group of volunteers how to use the cider press.

Bears and Apples season culminated in a large service day for the University of Montana Wildlife Society. Over 12 volunteers helped the Great Bear Foundation glean a large orchard out in Arlee that had seen recent black bear activity.

The Bears and Apples program would not be possible without the help of our amazing volunteers. We truly appreciate all of their hard work and dedication to helping the bears and the Great Bear Foundation. Bears and Apples is generously funded by Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Patagonia Environmental Grants, and support from members. Click here to become a member and support on-the-ground bear conservation projects like this one.

More pictures from our work this fall can be found below.

Volunteer coordinator picking apples

Bears and Apples Coordinator Chris Olsen works on gleaning a pear tree out in Arlee, Montana.

Volunteer pressing cider

Volunteers utilize Great Bear Foundation’s cider press to make their very own cider. Volunteers have found some of the best cider is made from a mixture of pears and apples.

Volunteer climbing apple tree

Climbing trees is often one of the highlights for volunteers with Bears and Apples.

Volunteer climbing apple tree

GBF Launches Bear Monitoring Research in Alaska

July 1st, 2014

Chilkoot Lake by Jeremy Patrick

Chilkoot Lake by Jeremy Patrick

Southeast Alaska’s Chilkoot River Corridor is a popular destination for sport-fishing and bear-viewing. Brown bears forage for Pacific salmon, alongside anglers who do the same with rod and reel. Tourists, locals, and photographers flock to the area to photograph the wildlife and stunning scenery. With five species of salmon, a brown bear population, and a host of recreational opportunities, the Chilkoot River Corridor presents a valuable site for studying the dynamics among salmon, humans, and bears.

This summer, the Great Bear Foundation is launching a research project to monitor how the brown bears use their habitat, and how successful they are at catching fish, in relation to salmon abundance and human activity. What kinds of activities displace bears, or affect their foraging success? Is there a correlation between the abundance of salmon and fishing success? Are some bears more able to tolerate human presence than others? Is there a minimum distance people must keep to avoid impacting the bears? These are all questions our research examines.

The Chilkoot River Monitoring Project builds on existing research by Anthony Crupi. We aim to build a long-term database, building on Crupi’s work, in order to answer management questions, and to better understand the dynamics among salmon, humans, and bears on multiple-use salmon streams.

We are setting up remote-sensor cameras along the river corridor to monitor bear and human activity. Meanwhile, volunteer citizen scientists will record in situ observations, documenting bear presence, fishing success, and human activity. We’ll compare these observations against what the cameras pick up, to determine how well the cameras are monitoring bear and human activity.

We are also monitoring vehicle traffic along the road that runs parallel to the river, using a tubeless vehicle counter from TRAFx Research, Ltd. Vehicle traffic can impact bears’ ability to move between the river and the forest, where they can seek sanctuary from humans and other bears. Some bears become habituated to vehicle traffic, losing their fear of cars, and making them more vulnerable to road-related mortality, while others may avoid roads entirely. Monitoring the vehicle traffic along the Chilkoot River Corridor will help us to learn more about how the use of the road impacts brown bears along the corridor. We thank TRAFx for their generous support of this project.

Additional support for this project comes from the Charlotte Martin Foundation and donations from members of the Great Bear Foundation. Click here to donate to the project. Special thanks to Ian Gill for his work on this project.

No Picnic for Florida Black Bears

June 18th, 2014

Photo courtesy MT FWP

Photo courtesy MT FWP

By Monica Perez-Watkins

There have been quite a few news stories coming out of Florida regarding increased incidences of human-black bear conflicts. Thanks to Dr. Jonkel’s brother who resides in the state, we recently learned of yet another: two Florida black bears, a mother and her cub, were stalked and shot by an 82-year old man. The man claimed he was protecting his dog and neighbors in shooting the bears, yet, it was found that neither the neighbors, nor his dog (or himself) were in danger from the bears, according to officials. It is illegal to shoot or kill a Florida black bear, which is a subspecies of the American black bear, and the man was charged with a fine of $750 for causing the deaths of the two bears.

The rising incidences of human-black bear conflict in Florida are likely a result of increases in both black bear and human populations, leading to increasing development in black bear habitat. Such expansion has pushed bears into residential areas where they are getting into trouble, learning to eat trash and other sources of unnatural bear food such as pet food, bird feeders, gardens, and compost piles.

This news story is yet another example of the importance of being Bear Aware in bear country. Whether you’re in Montana or Florida, keeping food and trash out of reach from bears is paramount to keeping both bears and humans safe!

Click here to read about the incident.

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.

See our Archives for all past news.

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