Our six most recent posts - click a title to expand/collapse:

New Field Course on Sharing Habitat with Polar Bears

January 14th, 2016

Polar Bear Face by Jeremy Patrick

Polar Bear Face by Jeremy Patrick

The Great Bear Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of a new arctic ecology field course, Sharing Habitat with Polar Bears: how people and polar bears coexist. In addition to general polar bear ecology, this course takes an in-depth look at community responses to living with polar bears, how Indigenous peoples have historically coexisted with bears, and how we as global citizens share a planet with polar bears in rapidly changing times. This course is designed to stand alone, or as a follow-up to our introductory field course, Polar Bears 101.

Polar Bears 101 is our staple Arctic Ecology Field Course, now in its 32nd year. Polar Bears 101 offers a broad overview of polar bear ecology, biology, behavior, and conservation status, with additional material on photography, northern cultures, climate change, and the Arctic.

Both courses are open to the public of all ages and backgrounds, although families with children may be more suited to Polar Bears 101, as Sharing Habitat with Polar Bears offers a more rigorous curriculum and focus. Both field courses are primarily based in field observations, with guest speakers and classroom programs at night. The sessions are timed to coincide with the peak of the annual polar bear aggregation around Cape Churchill, and we do not anticipate bear activity being greater during one session than the other.

40 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) from Salish Kootenai College are available for each session at no extra cost. Field course price includes train transportation beginning and ending in Winnipeg, accommodations and meals in Churchill, course tuition, and CEUs. We are happy to work with students at educational institutions and their advisors to design independent study projects through their home institution.

Field courses sell out quickly, so register today!

Countdown to Hibernation

October 9th, 2015

by Monica Perez-Watkins

Black bear with Cubs by Jeremy Patrick

Black bear with Cubs by Jeremy Patrick

A diminished wild food supply is drawing bears into towns across Western Montana and wildlife officials continue to receive calls about bears in residential areas, especially those with fruit trees. Apples are an easy, but dangerous, source of calories for bears in the fall. Apples lure bears into residential areas, where they quickly find other food sources, such as garbage and bird feeders. Bears then become labeled as problem bears for their proximity to humans, dumpster diving, and fruit tree climbing. Often, the first time a particular bear is found in a residential area, it is relocated away from the urban environment. However, second offenders are usually not given a second chance and killed by officials.

This is an important time of year for bears. They are busy preparing for hibernation by entering the intense state of hyperphagia, searching for easy and plentiful food to pack on the pounds for survival through the winter, when they will go several months without eating or even passing waste. In addition, pregnant females, which give birth over winter, cannot produce cubs without the required stored fat and energy necessary to birth and produce nutritious milk for newborns.

While in the winter den, a lot is happening inside a bear’s body. The body temperature drops by about 12 degrees, breathing slows to about 10 beats per minute, and waste is recycled into amino acids and protein, essential in cub development. Urea, usually eliminated as waste, gets broken down into Nitrogen, and released back into the blood stream, maintaining muscle and organ tissue, while fat is broken down to provide water and calories to sustain the bear through the hibernation period. Cholesterol remains in check thanks to ursodeoxycholic acid, produced in the bile, rather than hardening arteries as it does in humans. While crucial to bears, it is also the reason thousands are kept in horrific conditions on bear bile farms in several Asian countries. Bear bile has been used in traditional Asian medicine for centuries and usage persists despite synthetic and plant-derived alternatives. (But there is hope. Public sentiment is shifting across Asia, while Vietnam recently announced it would phase out the use of bear bile by 2020.)

Bears can also lose up to a third of their body weight during hibernation and, if enough fat was not secured in the fall, starvation may occur in the den. Additionally, upon emergence from the den in early spring, wild foods may not yet be abundant, causing additional stress.

But enough about winter, back to what we can do for the bears out right now…

We can easily help out bears by securing all attractants around our homes to ensure that bears stay safe, while making it more difficult for bears to get into conflict with humans in the first place. A bear attractant is anything left out that gives off an odor: unpicked fruit trees, garbage, pet food, birdseed, urban livestock, and compost, among many others. It doesn’t even have to be food or food waste to attract bears—oddly enough, bears are also attracted to petroleum products, including gasoline! A gas can left outside this time of year could easily become a bear’s “toy”. There are many simple and quick fixes to secure attractants, such as leaving garbage in a secured garage until the morning of pickup. There is even a program to help with the cost of electric fencing to protect livestock, fruit, or garbage. There is also plenty of free help with fruit removal in the Missoula area.

The Great Bear Foundation’s Bears and Apples program makes it easier for people with fruit trees by removing fruit and putting it to good use. We have been at the forefront of community efforts to prevent human-wildlife conflict by organizing community efforts to secure and eliminate bear attractants in residential areas for over a decade. You can help this effort by donating to the Bears & Apples project, volunteering to help pick apples, and taking steps in your own neighborhood to make sure you and your neighbors are not attracting bears to the area. Bears & Apples is a fun and exciting project, but it takes all of our time and resources, and a lot of help from volunteers, to keep the project going. Your contribution, of any amount, will go a long way toward improving safety for humans and bears alike. We are grateful for the support of the individual donors and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative for funding this project.

Human-bear conflict is a yearly problem, but with this fall’s wild food supply at one of the lowest levels in Western Montana in nearly two decades, bears are searching far and wide and venturing into new and urban areas for food to make it through the winter. Remember, bear problems are easier to prevent than to solve. Often, we just need the will and desire to act.

The Great Bear Foundation is a volunteer-driven, grassroots organization sustained by your donations.
We work hard to keep overhead costs low, so you can be assured that your contribution will go directly into bear conservation and education projects, and help us keep our doors open. Please help us to help the bears by donating to our projects today.

Great Bear Foundation releases Bears of the World Curriculum

July 3rd, 2015

Great Bear Foundation
by Christopher Olsen
Have you ever wondered how spectacled bears got their name? Or why the giant panda eats only bamboo? Or how many subspecies of American black bear there are?

The Great Bear Foundation’s newly released Bears of the World curriculum, developed by education specialist, Christopher Olsen, will answer all of these questions and more! This project aims to provide further resources to teachers and community members interested in learning about or teaching others about bears and their habitats.

The Bears of the World curriculum contains units on each of the bear species of the world: Grizzly/Brown Bear, American Black Bear, Polar Bear, Sloth Bear, Asiatic Black Bear, Spectacled Bear, Sun Bear, and Giant Panda Bear. Each unit contains a lesson focused on population and distribution, a scientific concept or activity, a writing activity, and a cooking activity.

For example, the science lesson for each unit takes a scientific concept, such as adaptation, subspecies, or climate change, and views the concept through the lens of a specific bear species. Students will learn about adaptation with spectacled bears, about biomes with Asiatic black bears, or about climate change with polar bears. For the cooking activity, students learn more about the diets of the various bear species, and prepare food dishes using only foods eaten by a particular bear. Recipes are provided in each lesson, including fig-guava smoothies for sun bears and apple-blackberry-mango crumble for sloth bears.

The curriculum also contains an Introductory Unit and a Closing Unit. In the Introductory Unit, students learn more about ecology, habitat, diet, and common characteristics of bears. In the Closing Unit, students explore prehistoric bears, as well as learn about how bears and other wildlife are portrayed in the media.

This curriculum was primarily designed for elementary and middle school aged children, particularly grades 4 through 8. Lessons are adaptable, however, and can be modified to fit the needs of younger or older learners. This curriculum is adaptive, and teachers do not have to follow the order of the lessons as presented. While it is more effective to follow the order of lessons and topics as presented in the curriculum, the various sections and lessons are also designed to stand on their own. In this way teachers can pick and choose activities that fit more easily into their previously established classroom curricula.

The curriculum aims to be interdisciplinary, with various lessons incorporating combinations of math, science, writing, history, cooking, and art. An interdisciplinary model is used to emphasize the various interconnections that exist between disciplines and to show how the topic of bears is connected to a multitude of disciplines as well.

A sample lesson is available for download, along with the Introduction and Table of Contents. The Bears in the Media lesson has students research how bears and other wildlife are commonly presented in television, movies, magazines, and other popular media and prepare a presentation for the class. If you are interested in receiving the whole curriculum, please
contact us.

Bears are Excellent Mothers

May 22nd, 2015

Black bear with Cubs by Jeremy Patrick

Black bear with Cubs by Jeremy Patrick

by Monica Perez-Watkins

Bears are excellent mothers.
After mating in the spring, female bears undergo delayed implantation, that is, the hollow ball of cells that will become the embryo doesn’t implant in her uterine wall until late fall, but this will only happen if she has enough weight to sustain the pregnancy. Also, unlike male bears, females actually stop growing once they reach maturity and any extra energy she accumulates will go to enhancing her fertility: larger litters, healthier cubes, enhanced milk production, shorter reproductive cycles … making a more viable bear population. Once the bears are born, she teaches them everything they need to know about being a bear in a specific area, bear culture. That’s why it is so imperative that we humans do not teach bears bad habits, e.g. leaving bird feeders out after winter, apples lingering on the tree in the fall, or raising chickens without an electric fence. There have been too many recent reports of bears getting into bird feeders around Missoula – anything cubs do with mom, they are learning from her and [if they survive and aren’t removed from the population] will carry on into their adulthood and teach their own young. Lets not let that happen.

Wildlife Extravaganza

May 13th, 2015

GBF's Chris Olsen teaches families about bears

GBF’s Chris Olsen teaches families about bears

By Chris Olsen

The Great Bear Foundation participated in the 3rd annual Wildlife Extravaganza on May 9th at the Montana Natural History Center. The event was organized by the UM Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Over 400 Missoulians attended the free, family-friendly event to learn more about conservation, science, and wildlife.

The Great Bear Foundation was one of over a dozen nonprofits that provided educational programs at the event. GBF provided Bear Basics education as well as an interactive table display that provided students with hands-on activities.

Students explored the differences in tracks between grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and mountain lions. They also analyzed the different claws of grizzly bears, black bears, polar bears, and mountain lions to determine how each animal used their claws. Students also got the opportunity to feel the fur of a black bear and to analyze bear scat.

Education is an important part of our mission at the Great Bear Foundation. Living with bears and other large predators is a reality in Montana, and we feel strongly that learning about these animals is essential knowledge for children to have. There are many harmful myths about these animals, and we believe in providing students with accurate, scientific information to dispel these myths.

Great Bear provides free Bear Basics programs to K-12 schools and other groups in western Montana and Southeast Alaska. For more information, or to schedule a program, please contact the Great Bear Foundation.

Give Local Missoula May 5

May 4th, 2015

Give Local Missoula

Give Local Missoula

Your donation can go further if you donate through Give Local Missoula on May 5, 2015.

Click here to stretch your donation on May 5th.
Give LOCAL Missoula is a powerful 24-hour, online giving event. Presented by the Missoula Community Foundation, Give LOCAL Missoula is part of a national event with local impact. We are joining communities across the country on May 5th in a one-day online giving challenge to raise funds for local causes.

In 2014 (Give Local Missoula‘s first year), 1901 community members donated $135,250 to 90 local nonprofits! Our 2015 goal is to raise $200,000 for Missoula nonprofits during this one day, and we would like to see 5% of our community participating.

As part of Give Local America, Missoula can generate significant funds for causes right in our own backyard. For one day, every dollar given to local nonprofits will be stretched by funds from a local pool of sponsorships- making every gift go further.

On May 5th at 12:00am, the Give Local Missoula website will begin accepting donations to more than 130 local nonprofits and causes – for one day only.

Everyone can be a superhero. We’re asking every person in the community to get behind this effort. Large and small gifts will combine for a big impact. Give to your favorite nonprofits, and then consider kicking in an extra $10 or more to the Give Local Missoula Stretch Pool.

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