Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cabinet-Yaak Wilderness Grizzly Bear Reseach Project

Had a great couple days up in Troy, Montana volunteering for a Grizzly Bear research project. Chris and I left Monday after classes and made it up to Troy around 8pm. We met the rest of the crew at the field station(a leased house). There were 3 grad students who would be teaching us how to identify and record bear rubs as well as set up barbed wire hair snares in order to collect hair samples for next summers population study.
The next morning everyone split up and we headed out onto some trails. I went with Brian who plans on studying ornithology during his graduate research. Brian and I picked about a 10 mile trail to do. We were dropped off by Ashley(another grad student). It was a wet and cloudy morning but we started early on the trail. About a mile in Brain spotted the first bear rub. I learned first hand what some of the bears do when they rub against the trees.

After identifying the rub, I set up my first bear snare. The snares, which are basically composed of barbed wire, act as a hair collector when the bear rubs the tree. The process is not all that hard. After identifying a rub we first burn the bear hair that was left on the tree. This is so that when researchers collect hair for the study, it is more recent. After burning the hair, one person sets up the barbwire lengths, criss-crossing them down the length of the tree, depending on where hair was found. The other person (Brian in this case), records all the information pertaining to the rub such as distance from the trail, condition of the hair found, diameter of the tree, district the rub was found in, trail number, tag number, other bear signs, and GPS location. Each rub is marked as a way point in the GPS and later reported. Setting up the barbed wire by nailing it to the tree with U nails was actually tougher than I thought. We finished in good time though and we continued on. We hiked along a ridge for a long time and saw many older bear rubs. We also saw many cases of where bears tore up the trees with their claws.

It was amazing to see some of these trees just torn to shreds. It really shows how strong these bears really are. We ended up seeing one more rub on the day and put up a snare. After that involved a little bit of Hell. We continued on what we thought was the trail and ended up at the end of an old logging road. When we looked on the map and GPS location we discovered we had gone way off course and ended up basically in the middle of nowhere. Our options were to bushwhack 2 miles looking to hit the other trail of follow the logging road all the way back to the road that we drove in on. We decided to take the road, not knowing we would have to bushwhack about half the time through thick bushes. It was hell and we were both freezing by the time we hit the road. Unfortunately we had to wait an hour and a half more for our ride. We were cold but we laughed about it after. It was a tough day, but a great one too and I learned so much about bears and the way they act.

The next morning we were up again and picking trails to do. Today would be an easier day. We headed across the boarder to Idaho and hiked a 2 mile trail. We checked out a previous snare set up a few days ago and found that there was already some big clumps of hair attached to some of the barbed wire.

The silver tips on the hair suggested that it was most likely a grizzly. We continued on down a logging road and met up with Ashley who had the truck. For the rest of the day we surveyed roads for bear rubs and found 2 more. We were glad to have a more relaxing day and we finished up early and headed back to Troy. When Chris got back from his day of work we packed up the car and drove back to Missoula. It was a great learning experience and I'm glad we went. Our volunteer work will give us a good opportunity to be hired next Summer as Bio Techs.

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