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Keeping an eye on the grizzlies

Saturday, 14 September 2013. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Keeping an eye on the grizzlies

Andrea Morehouse at her Beauvais Lake presentation, Hair Snares and Grizzly Bears – What’s New?  Brenda Shenton photo

Keeping an eye on the grizzlies

By Brad Quarin

Andrea Morehouse of the Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project has been out in the field since May, hiking and collecting and preserving bear hairs.

The project, covering an area south of Highway 3, monitors the grizzly population by studying the DNA in hair samples left by the creatures. Grizzlies are known to rub against trees, as well as phone poles and fence posts, leaving a scent to communicate with other bears.

Bear rubbing recently went viral after Glenn Naylor of Alberta Parks uploaded a video of the activity to YouTube, racking up 1.9 million views. Andrea finds the video funny and “pretty cute,” but it’s from a separate project in Kananaskis.

In her project, researchers have attached barbed wire to bear-rub objects to snag some hairs.

Wildlife has long been an interest for Andrea, who’s from Minnesota. In the past, she’s studied wolves, bighorn sheep, salamanders and even monkeys in Peru. She arrived in Alberta six years ago, liked it here and stayed.

Currently, she’s working with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and on her PhD in wildlife ecology at the University of Alberta. When the chance to work on the grizzly monitoring project arose, she enthusiastically jumped on board.

The project fits her interest in large carnivores, and particularly in clashes between people and animals, which she feels are important to address.

Since the end of May, she’s been among the researchers checking 841 bear-rub objects. Each object will be checked every three weeks until mid-November. The hairs collected are saved for Wildlife Genetics International, a lab in British Columbia.

Andrea doesn’t see many bears while she’s out in the field, though one field tech happens to see them frequently. Sometimes you might spot a bear from a vehicle or while hiking, and Andrea notes they take some safety measures like carrying bear spray and being quite loud.

They’ve received a lot of help and interest from the community. Landowners are co-operating, which is important because 60 per cent of the land they look at is private.

So far, their findings have been interesting indeed. Results from the 2012 field season show there are at least 122 grizzlies in the area – 72 males and 50 females – which Andrea finds exciting, as it’s higher than the 2007 estimate of 51.

About 40 per cent of the hair collected came from black bears, but they’re outside the scope of the project.



From the Sept. 4/13 print edition of Shootin’ the Breeze.
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