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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Grizzly(Brown) Bears will fight each other fiercely to obtain choice foodstuffs......While death to one of the combatants can occur, most often, the victor lets the vanquished wander off to lick their wounds----and fight another day.......In Alaska's KATMAI NATIONAL PARK, photographer Brad Josephs array of pictures(below) depict the sheer power and ferocity of two young Grizzlies fighting for "every calorie that they can get"...........Also, click on the link to watch a true "heavyweight bout" between two Griz over a Whale carcass


In photos: The stunning power of grizzly bear battles

In photos: The stunning power of grizzly bear battles
BY EARTH TOUCH NEWS AUGUST 14 2015For wildlife photographer Brad Josephs, watching a battle between two 1,500-pound (680-kilogram) grizzly bears is business as usual. An experienced guide in southern Alaska's Katmai National Park, Josephs has been observing and documenting bear behaviours for over 17 years.

On a recent trip through the park, he and his team witnessed one such showdown during a chum salmon run – and the resulting photographs are truly beautiful. "Grizzly bears are my favorite subject by far," says Josephs. "They are so powerful, exhibit very complex behaviour, and are incredibly intelligent. Once you learn to respect them and give them plenty of space, they are amazing animals to be around."
Tension is often high among grizzlies when food (like spawning salmon) moves through the area. "Brawls like these are pretty common when you have young males like these two guys fishing in the same spot. They have to fight for every calorie they get."
This battle unfolded particularly close to Josephs's group – just 30 feet (ten metres) away. "It was quite exciting," he recalls. "I feel alert, humble, and very grateful every time I'm in grizzly country."
When he's not roaming the Alaskan wilderness, Josephs dedicates his time to blogging about the threats facing Alaskan wildlife. It is his hope that images like these will help people appreciate bears and will encourage conservation efforts. 
As if this stunning show of bravado wasn't enough, Josephs and his team also recently witnessed bears battling over a fin whale carcass! 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"The strength of Americans 'domination' wildlife values, or the belief that nature should be conquered and the natural environment used for the benefit of humans, can be traced to the country from which their ancestors migrated"..........."For example, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Norway had the highest mastery scores, and Americans who claimed ancestry from those countries had high scores on domination toward wildlife"...........For those who live in bigger cities and who have achieved high levels of education and financial success at work, there is a more tolerant attitude toward wildlife............Known as 'mutualism', it is the belief that "wildlife deserves treatement equal to humans"...............If all of us can come to understand that in both practical and holistic terms, both using wildlife and wild places as well as cherishing and perpetuating them for futue generations can and should be merged into a plan that goes one step further than what Forester Gifford Pinchot and Environmentalist John Muir forged at the turn of the 20th century under the leadership of President Teddy Roosevelt..............."This 'working together' philosophy of land management and perpetuation of species can perhaps best be seen by looking at a map of a large national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite"..........."These parks (and many others) are connected to, or completely surround by national forests or grasslands managed by the Forest Service"................. "For more than 100 years the success of the dual strategy of conservation and preservation has grown more and more obvious to the millions who benefit from jobs created and those who enjoy the wild places"................If we can now infuse this strategey with a a dose of Aldo Leopold's LAND ETHIC(see below definition), then perhaps we just might achieve most of what both sides of the conservation/preservation debate seek

"Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land"..... "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us".... "When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect"---20th Century American biologist and land manager Aldo Leopold

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land"... "In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it".... "It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such"--20th Century American biologist and land manager Aldo Leopold

We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us"
— Albert Einstein

Americans tend to think about wildlife like their ancestors did

October 15, 2015 by Rob Novak

Researchers from Colorado State University and The Ohio State University have found evidence that we think about wildlife like our ancestors did.

More specifically, the strength of Americans' "domination" wildlife values, or the belief that nature should be conquered and the natural environment used for the benefit of humans, can be traced to the country from which their ancestors migrated.

Values are shifting
At the same time, researchers demonstrated that, overall, Americans' values toward wildlife are shifting from a domination view to the view that wildlife deserves treatment equal to humans. Researchers call this line of thought about wildlife "mutualism."
The study of values has important implications for human-environmental interactions, and the management of wildlife throughout the country. Wildlife managers serve diverse constituencies with wide ranging viewpoints on management approaches. If managers understand the value orientations of their constituents they can frame the feedback they receive in those contexts, and can communicate their decisions more effectively.
In a recently published article in Conservation Biology, researchers from CSU and OSU reported on their study that asked questions about values toward wildlife among residents of the western United States.
Link between values and ancestry
"From what we know about human values, we assumed that they would persist over many generations and be unlikely to change without a significant reason," said lead investigator Mike Manfredo, head of CSU's Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. "Still, it was a bit surprising to find we could make such clear links between wildlife values and countries of ancestry."

The researchers, who also include Professor Tara Teel at CSU and Assistant Professor Alia Dietsch at OSU, conducted their investigation as part of a long-term research program designed to monitor change in wildlife values over time. The survey measured domination and mutualism values toward wildlife in addition to asking people their ancestors' country of origin.
The researchers grouped respondents by country of origin and then compared wildlife value scores to contemporary value scores for residents living in those same countries. These country's values scores were obtained from a global values survey that included a measure of "mastery" over the environment.
"The relationship was striking," said Manfredo. "For example, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Norway had the highest mastery scores, and Americans who claimed ancestry from those countries had high scores on domination toward wildlife."

Differences among urbanized states
Interestingly, while values toward the environment appear persistent, the researchers also found residents of more urbanized states with higher levels of income and education have lower levels of domination and a growing emphasis on mutualism.
In practical terms, those with mutualism values have very different environmental priorities than those with domination values. Mutualism is associated with concerns about declines in  populations and limiting human use of the environment. In contrast, domination is associated with concerns for a healthy economy, private property rights, and lethal control of carnivores when they conflict with human interests.

Bull Elk

Can we expect values to keep changing in ways that appear to be more consistent with environmental sustainability? The findings are mixed, according to Manfredo.
"It appears as though that type of change is occurring with modernization," he said. "However, we simply do not know if it will continue and if it does, how fast it will occur."

Wildlife in built-up areas an undervalued part of our urban ecosystems

July 15, 2015 by Marie Daniels

Urban wildlife such as deer, foxes and badgers should be cherished for the ecological benefits they bring to towns and cities, rather than feared as potentially harmful pests, scientists argue in a new report.

Read more at:

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Not only do all large carnivores benefit our natural systems via their "top-down" trophic population control of hoofed browsers(and the subsequent positive ripple effect provided across the animal and plant life of a given ecosystem), they also provide essential and life-giving food to a plethora of other animals via their leftovers from kills made...............In the case of Pumas, the PANTHERA TETON COUGAR STUDY has revealed that 39 different species of mammals and birds, 15% of the roster of mammals and birds in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park get critical protein scavenging Puma kills.............."The most common scavengers were red foxes and black-billed magpies, but a veritable who's who of neighborhood meat-eaters (omnivores very much included) partook: everything from flying squirrels, deer mice and sparrows to grey wolves, black bears and grizzlies"............Click on link below to see Grizzly Bears and Gray Wolves scavenging Puma kills


Who ate the leftovers? Puma kills are enjoyed by a who's who of scavengers


Who ate the leftovers? Puma kills are enjoyed by a who's who of scavengersBY ETHAN SHAW OCTOBER 16 2017 

A female puma known as F61, who was followed by Panthera's Teton Cougar Project, stands over her elk kill in northwest Wyoming. Image: Mark Elbroch/Panthera
Do chickadees, chipmunks and woodrats thank their lucky stars for sharing real estate with pumas?
The answer may well be "yes" (in whatever way songbirds and rodents might recognise and express gratitude for a 70-kilogram cat).
Those little creatures, plus a whole gaggle of others, are among an impressively diverse guild of scavengers that nibbles and gnaws on puma leftovers in the US Rockies, according to new research by Panthera's Teton Cougar Project.
The study – published in the November edition of Biological Conservation – shows not only how bountiful puma kills can be as a food source for other animals, but suggests that other ecologically similar felids around the world may provide significant ecosystem services of a similar nature.
The fieldwork took place in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, specifically in and around Grand Teton National Park. Tracking GPS-collared pumas allowed the researchers to locate nearly 250 active kills they deemed still "meaty" enough to draw in scavengers, then place motion-sensor cameras near the carcasses to record the dining parties
.The cameras documented a whopping 39 different species of mammals and birds scavenging this puma-delivered meat: all told, nearly 15 percent of the local mammalian and avian roster, and a diversity "higher than any other scavenger study to date from around the world", as lead author Mark Elbroch wrote in aPanthera blog post announcing the results.
The most common scavengers were red foxes and black-billed magpies, but a veritable who's who of neighbourhood meat-eaters (omnivores very much included) partook: everything from flying squirrels, deer mice and sparrows to grey wolves, black bears and grizzlies.
Obviously a lot of this pilfering goes down when the puma is finished with its kill, or in between mealtime visits – though some scavengers slip in with the big cat sleeping nearby, hang out until it is through eating, or even share the carcass with it.
On the Panthera blog, Elbroch suggested that across their vast North and South American range – greater than any other large land mammal in the Western Hemisphere – pumas may supply better than 1.5 million kilograms (3.3 million pounds) of meat to other critters on a daily basis.
(A previous study by Elbroch and Heiko U. Wittmer showed puma kills in central Patagonia fed at least a dozen kinds of vertebrate scavengers, including Andean condors.)

Spot the fox! A red fox bides its time while F61 stands over her kill. Image: Mark Elbroch/Panthera
The new research suggests pumas may supply more than three times the amount of carrion to local scavengers that wolves in the Greater Yellowstone do. This highlights a key difference between the two carnivores, which historically overlapped in most of their North American domains and which target roughly similar prey. Wolf packs may polish off a carcass in a day, leaving few scraps behind for scavengers; furthermore, wolves will aggressively defend their kills from pilferers, from ravens to grizzlies. (It doesn't always work with grizzlies.)
Because they're solitary hunters targeting large animals (deer, elk, bighorn sheep, etc.), pumas don't burn through their kills as quickly as their canine counterparts. As Toni Ruth and Kerry Murphy note in Cougar: Ecology and Conservation, it may take a puma three to six days to finish a carcass. That means significantly more opportunities for scavenging by other animals, though pumas do make efforts to discourage this. For example, they cache their kills in thickets or woods and under heaps of grass or leaf litter to try to prevent magpies, ravens and other noisy carrion birds from finding the prize and alerting other scavengers.

Finally, the fox's turn at the table. Image: Mark Elbroch/Panthera
Though pumas sometimes kill smaller carnivores such as bobcats and foxes that get too close to their dinner table, the big cats generally shy away from confrontations with larger rivals. Previous research has showngrizzly and black bears as well as grey wolves to be significant "kleptoparasites" of pumas in North America, actively displacing the cats from their feasts. (Not that the tables never turn: pumas have been recorded killing lone wolves on occasion, and some evidence suggests a male wolf of the erstwhile Druid Peak Pack in Yellowstone National Park, No. 163, may have been taken out by a puma in a face-off over a dead bighorn sheep.) With their better-than-a-bloodhound's sense of smell, bears may zero in on a carcass within hours of a puma's kill.
Elbroch suggests that, because their ambush-style hunting tactics often expend less energy than the distance-running strategies employed by many wild canines (as well as spotted hyenas), pumas may be better able to deal with a certain level of pirated kills without necessarily having to hunt extra to compensate. “Pumas lose or abandon on average 39% of their prey to competitors and scavengers,” the researchers write, "and, like cheetahs, are likely tolerant of some level of kleptoparasitism of their kills."
As part of their study, Elbroch and his colleagues also identified six other large (20kg-plus) felids that, like pumas, are both solitary apex predators and subordinate to other big carnivores in direct competition:cheetahs, for one, as well as clouded leopards and Sunda clouded leopards, Eurasian lynx, snow leopards and common leopards.
"[These species] may also disproportionately provision carrion to their ecological communities," the authors write. That inadvertent bounty is potentially all the more significant, they note, when the huge collective range of all these felids – pumas included – is considered.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Oregon Wildlife Officials estimate that their State is home to about 6,000 Pumas(cougars, mountain lions)......There are many independent biologists outside of the State Wildlife system who question whether in fact that large a population exists based on the fact that in the 44 years spanning 1918-65, some 6700 Pumas were shot or trapped causing the population to plummet to some 200 animals.............In the 44 years spanning 1966-2009, 9200 Pumas were shot or trapped,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Why then, are there 6000 Pumas in the State today after such a spike in killing them over a similar time span?.................... In modern times, the highest densities occur in the Blue Mountains in the northeastern part of the state and in the southwestern Cascade Mountains where the largest contiguous array of open space exists...........So are these two reegions actually saturated, causing Pumas to push into what is known as the Coast Management Zone, which has a heavily fragmented with a large human population?..........Or is it just the occasional male prospector "pushing the envelope" into the Coastal region?...........In part to get a better handle on all of these unanswered questions, Oregon is starting a GPS monitoring plan of 10 Pumas in the region to see what lands the animals are actually staking out, how they are making a living and what their prospects are of becoming a perpetuating breeding population

BY KATIE FRANKOWICZ;Published Oct. 25, 2017

ASTORIA — Yellow signs at trailheads in Ecola and Fort Stevens state parks feature a drawing of a cougar and a blank space to write the date whenever the animal is spotted.
Most years these spaces remain empty, but state wildlife managers say cougar populations appear to be increasing elsewhere along the Oregon Coast, raising questions about what is and what could become cougar country.

An updated cougar management plan, approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in mid-October, found that the coast management zone has reported a rise in cougar sightings, as well as an increase in conflicts with the big cats.

Zone A(Coast North Cascades) seeing Puma prospecting taking place

Now, state biologists based in Newport are beginning the first-ever coastal effort to attach GPS collars to adult cougars and track their movements to see just how far these predators wander, what they eat and where they might be going next.
The coast management zone is a large area that includes the northern section of the Cascade Mountain Range, the Portland, Salem and Eugene metro areas and the rural North Coast. For years these areas were written off, not considered good cougar habitat, said Derek Broman, carnivore-furbearer coordinator for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.

Note that National Forest cover is not as prevalent in
the Coast North Cascades--Can Pumas make a home
there successfully?

Sure, the animals were present, but they existed in a fragmented region, a mix of urban and rural where the lush, rough terrain and relatively limited prey made for poor habitat. It was the last place to expect a population boom.
“Those might have been some premature assumptions,” Broman said. “They’re not holding true.”
Wildlife managers believe cougars could be reaching a saturation point elsewhere in the state, forcing young animals to seek new territory. However, on the coast and in the Willamette Valley, human populations have increased along with cougar populations, opening the door for potential clashes and an uptick in sightings.
In the updated cougar management plan, there are maps of the coastal zone sprinkled with dots that represent the locations of dead cougars — cats killed by hunters, struck by cars or shot by wildlife managers after they threatened human or animal safety. The mortality numbers, along with the ages of the dead cougars, are one way wildlife managers estimate the total population.

Are there really 6000+ Pumas alive in Oregon today?

On one map, showing cougar mortality from 1987 to 1994, there is a smattering of dead animals. Each dot is distinct. In the map for 2006 to 2016, the dots form thick black clusters in the south, especially around the Alsea management area near Newport where biologists plan to begin to collar and tag cougars this fall.
Broman calls the Alsea area the “front range of cougar expansion.”
Jason Kirchner, a state wildlife biologist who is leading the collaring efforts, is replicating a study from northeastern Oregon, an area known for having a robust cougar population. The Alsea team hopes to collar 10 adult cougars, preferably five males and five females. They are curious what they will discover.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Over the past couple of years, we have Posted videos of Pumas swimming across various lakes in the Northwestern USA and Western Canada..........Yes, the "big cats" do in fact swim and can colonize lands separated by lakes.............."The latest instance took place in August, when fishermen on Flaming Gorge Reservoir along the Wyoming-Utah border filmed a mountain lion taking a dip"........The outlook for the Florida Pumas(some 100-200 of them) fighting for survival in the backcountry of South Florida got a bit brighter with news last year that a female cat had managed to swim across the broad Caloosahatchee River, a natural obstacle to northward expansion of Southwest Florida’s overcrowded panther population"...........May the Pumas "swim" their way back to all of their former habitat across the USA..............Click on the video below to behold the Flaming Gorge Reservoir Puma in full glide!


Watch: Dogpaddling mountain lion is more proof that pumas sometimes swim

Watch: Dogpaddling mountain lion is more proof that pumas sometimes swim
It’s not only jaguarstigersbobcats, and fishing cats bucking the whole notion that felines detest getting their paws wet. The past several years have seen multiple reports (and multiple videos) of dogpaddling pumas in western North America, and we’ve got another one to share with you.

The latest instance took place in August, when fishermen on Flaming Gorge Reservoir along the Wyoming-Utah border filmed a mountain lion taking a dip:Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Map and in full sparkle

“I didn’t know mountain lions swam,” one of the anglers is heard saying in the video (uploaded to YouTubeby Michael Pearson). Indeed, most people probably don’t expect to see a puma going all amphibious, but as we’ve alluded to there’s definitely precedent.

Last November a father and son filmed a pair of pumas paddling Shasta Lake in northern California. That came a few months after boaters near Bellingham, Washington caught a mountain lion on tape swimming a half-mile reach of Lake Whatcom.
In 2013, meanwhile, saltwater-treading pumas were encountered on two different occasions on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island (home to its own cougar subspecies): one in August near Fair Harbour, the other in July in Nootka Sound.
Commenting on the latter sighting, Danielle Thompson of Parks Canada told theTimes-Colonist that Vancouver Island pumas readily take to water while on the hunt. “They’ll commonly swim between islands in search of prey,” she said. “Their preferred prey is deer, which also swim well.”
It’s worth noting that the fjord- and island-littered coast of British Columbia (also home to wolves that cross channels and bays without compunction) is far from the only especially waterlogged corner of puma country. From the Pantanal to the Everglades, these big cats do just fine prowling magnificently swampy and marshy habitats.
The outlook for the Florida panther – a puma subspecies fighting for survival in the backcountry of South Florida – got a bit brighter with news last year that a female cat had managed to swim across the broad Caloosahatchee River, a natural obstacle to northward expansion of Southwest Florida’s overcrowded panther population. Conservationists believe panthers re-establishing themselves north of the Caloosahatchee is critical to their long-term survival in the region.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I just purchased a copy of WILD BY NATURE, Andrea Smalley's( Professor of History at Northern Illinois U.) new book which places animals at the center of the story of American colonization.............."Following a trail of human–animal encounters from the seventeenth-century Chesapeake to the Civil War–era southern plains, Smalley shows how wild beasts and their human pursuers repeatedly transgressed the lines lawmakers drew to demarcate colonial sovereignty and control, confounding attempts to enclose both people and animals inside a legal frame"............... "She also explores how, to possess the land, colonizers had to find new ways to contain animals without destroying the wildness that made those creatures valuable to English settler societies in the first place"........ "Offering fresh perspectives on colonial, legal, environmental, and Native American history, Wild by Nature reenvisions the familiar stories of early America as animal tales"

From the time Europeans first came to the New World until the closing of the frontier, the benefits of abundant wild animals―from beavers and wolves to fish, deer, and bison―appeared as a recurring theme in colonizing discourses. Explorers, travelers, surveyors, naturalists, and other promoters routinely advertised the richness of the American faunal environment and speculated about the ways in which animals could be made to serve their colonial projects. In practice, however, American animals proved far less malleable to colonizers’ designs. Their behaviors constrained an English colonial vision of a reinvented and rationalized American landscape.
 In Wild by Nature, Andrea L. Smalley argues that Anglo-American authorities’ unceasing efforts to convert indigenous beasts into colonized creatures frequently produced unsettling results that threatened colonizers’ control over the land and the people. Not simply acted upon by being commodified, harvested, and exterminated, wild animals were active subjects in the colonial story, altering its outcome in unanticipated ways. These creatures became legal actors―subjects of statutes, issues in court cases, and parties to treaties―in a centuries-long colonizing process that was reenacted on successive wild animal frontiers.
Following a trail of human–animal encounters from the seventeenth-century Chesapeake to the Civil War–era southern plains, Smalley shows how wild beasts and their human pursuers repeatedly transgressed the lines lawmakers drew to demarcate colonial sovereignty and control, confounding attempts to enclose both people and animals inside a legal frame. She also explores how, to possess the land, colonizers had to find new ways to contain animals without destroying the wildness that made those creatures valuable to English settler societies in the first place. Offering fresh perspectives on colonial, legal, environmental, and Native American history, Wild by Nature reenvisions the familiar stories of early America as animal tales.

Andrea L. Smalley is an assistant professor of history at Northern Illinois University.
"Smalley does a fine job of showing how the eradication of wolves, beaver, brown bear, wild boar, and lynx in England by the sixteenth century helped to shape the approach English colonists took to the animal populations they found in North America. Placing animals at the center of the story of colonization, Wild by Nature is a provocative and persuasive book."
"... the richness of the information from obscure sources serves as an invaluable reference. This book provides a thought-provoking and interesting thesis... Recommended."

Related Books

Monday, October 23, 2017

I am hoping that It only takes but a few minutes for any of us to process and agree on the premise that all animals, including man needs easy-to-access and safe routes to seek out others of their particular species to mate with............If an animal species is confined to mating with only those in their immediate "neighborhood" and if that neighborhood never sees "strangers" move in, then over time, inbreeding of that animal population will occur with debilitating and life-ending genetic abnormalites occuring in offspring..............For wild animals, it is imperative for there to be inteconnective natural land corridors that link large core habitat reserves..............In the case of Grizzly Bears in the currently isolated Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide populations, biologists are mapping the most likely routes that prospecting male bears will likely take to ingest their genes into the one or the other of these bruin population centers..............Through this type research and mapping, Land Trusts, Local, State and Federal Environmental Agencies can plan and purchase the necessary lands to link up Yellowstone with the Northern Continental Griz populations, hopefully ensuring the perpetuation of the Grizzly population in the USA for hundreds of years to come

Routes out of isolation for Yellowstone grizzlies

Montana scientists project pathways to wider mating pools in the Northern Rockies, based on characteristic movements of male bears

In summer of 2017, biologists from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed sightings of a grizzly bear in the Big Belt Mountains northeast of Helena, Montana. The bear, an adventurous vanguard from its home range in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem of northwestern Montana, could be an unwitting pioneer on a path that may one day bring grizzlies from the Northern Continental Divide face to face with cousins long isolated in Yellowstone, say an interagency team of Montana and Wyoming biologists.
They report their results in an article to be published next week in the Ecological Society of America's open access journalEcosphere.
Drawing from rich data on the movements of male bears in both grizzly populations, the researchers projected the rambles that future bears might take to pass through (or bypass) human occupied territory around Helena, Butte, and Bozeman, hopping between islands of wildlands in developed farm and rangeland. The bears' best options may be the longest routes, the researchers say, traversing state and federally owned wildlands in a westward arc around the more developed Interstate 90 corridor.

Chad Dickinson, a biological science technician with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, fits a Global Positioning System collar on a male grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. Christopher Peck and colleagues used GPS telemetry data from males like this one to predict the behavior and habitat selection of bears exploring landscapes outside the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, on journeys that could bring them into contact with breeding grizzly populations in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, and vice versa. They report their results in "Potential paths for male-mediated gene flow to and from an isolated grizzly bear population" in the journal Ecosphere.
Credit: Frank van Manen

"We let the male bears tell us where they would be most likely to go, by looking at their movement characteristics. We had the luxury of huge datasets of location data from both populations.
We could be very picky about our data selection," said Frank van Manen, team leader for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. He coauthored the study with seven colleagues from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Wyoming Game and Fish, and his own home agency, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Increasing public interest in a reunion of the Yellowstone and Northern Continental bear families motivated van Manen and colleagues to look at the possible paths the bears might take. An influx of genetic diversity through breeding with outsiders could give the Yellowstone grizzly population greater resiliency to changing environmental conditions.
"We've been asked for this information by many groups invested in grizzlies. Organizations involved in land conservation want to know where land purchases will be most useful. Government agencies need to know where to put in place education efforts," said coauthor Cecily Costello, a research wildlife biologist at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Kalispell.
"There were routes that were not obvious before we started, and a lot more alternatives than we thought initially," van Manen said. The predicted routes matched well with 21 verified sightings of grizzly bears outside their usual ranges, like the bear seen in the Big Belts this summer (number 19 on the accompanying map). Sightings extend back to 1998, but most occurred in the last two years.

But trekking south towards Yellowstone through the Big Belts could be a relatively constrained and precarious route for bears, hemmed in by private land in low-lying valleys harboring highways, ranches, farms, and urban centers. Map visualizations of the models emphasize where corridors for the bears are narrowest. Overlapping predictions from the model indicate a tight squeeze for the bears, with few optimal paths. A scattered proliferation of paths through a region suggests that it offers more continuous habitat. 
"On the western edge there is more natural habitat, fewer humans. Paths are more diffuse, and longer, but those routes are much more secure. If bears were to go in those directions they would be much less vulnerable to mortality," van Manen said. But any crossing would likely take several years to complete, he said.
Long term monitoring of the Yellowstone and Northern Continental grizzlies provided the researchers with a wealth of data on bear movements. They trained their model on data from 124 males carrying GPS transmitters, collected from 2000 to 2015 (199 bear-years), tracking how bears move, how far and how quickly they travel, the habitats and physical features they favor, and how they exploit and explore the landscape. Female bears typically set a home range near their mothers. The researchers looked only at the movements of male bears, which range more widely than females and are more likely to make the crossing of no-bears-land.
"The sightings data validated the models. Also interesting, looking at the pattern of bear observations, is that most were likely from bears that originated in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Based on the data from both observations and modeling, it seems that an immigrant coming from the north is the more likely scenario, which is good, because that is what we want. That is what is needed," van Manen said.

Establishing a natural genetic exchange between the populations, without resort to relocation of animals, is a top priority for many people invested in the recovery of grizzly bears, and a long-term management goal for the state of Montana.
But expansion will take the bears onto private land, and lead to encounters with dangerous highways. With more human dominated landscapes comes the potential for conflicts with people.
"The dispersing males, they are the ones that get in trouble, that get into the garbage, that roam into town, because they are more exploratory," van Manen said.
Preparing people to coexist with bears may be as important as securing conservation easements, said van Manen and Costello. Bear-proof garbage storage systems and electric fences around beehives can minimize conflicts with people and go a long way towards securing a safe path for the bears. Costello would like to look at potential highway crossings, to investigate ways to mitigate collisions with vehicles. But she emphasizes that the models represent movement corridors. The projected paths, particularly where they cross more developed low country, do not necessarily indicate where bears would set up permanent residence.
Grizzly bears generally prefer to be where people are not. Though they are adaptable to a wide variety of habitats and diets, they need a lot of undeveloped space. The domestication of the West during the twentieth century pushed grizzlies out of most of the lower 48 states, isolating a small population of bears in the haven of Yellowstone, the United States' first national park, and in the remote northwest corner of Montana. The Yellowstone bears were among the first animal populations protected by the Endangered Species Act, in 1975. They thrived under the act's protection, expanding from a group of perhaps fewer than 250 bears in the early 1980s to over 700 today, and spilling outside the park into adjacent federal forested lands. The grizzlies now roam over 65,000 square kilometers (25,000 square miles) of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with only about a fifth of the population inside the national park at its core.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Yellowstone grizzlies from threatened species protection under the Endangered Species Act in June, 2017.
The bear population in the Northern Continental Divide, still listed as threatened, has grown on a similar trajectory. This group, which is about 1,000 bears strong, inhabits Glacier National Park and adjacent National Forests, connecting northward to grizzly populations in Canada. At the outermost edges of its range, only 110 kilometers (68 miles) separate it from the Yellowstone population.
"110 kilometers is right on the cusp of what we might see in the dispersal patterns of males. We are within the realm of immigration events happening naturally," van Manen said.
Story Source:
Materials provided by Ecological Society of AmericaNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Peck, C.P. et al. Potential paths for male-mediated gene flow to and from an isolated grizzly bear population.Ecosphere, 2017 DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.1969