The military leader nicknamed “The Bear” was in Yellowstone National Park this week to watch military technology put to use to protect real bears.
Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, now the national spokesman for a grizzly recovery campaign run by the Center for Wildlife Information in Montana, visited Yellowstone on Friday to see how the Global Positioning System is being used to track grizzly bears.
“I’m very much interested in anything having to do with grizzly bears in the Lower 48,” he said while watching a female grizzly and three cubs on a nearby mountain ridge. “I want to see them survive as a symbol of the American wilderness.”
The equipment to let the park take advantage of the GPS tracking system is being paid for with some of the money from a $1 million Canon U.S.A. contribution to the National Park Service.
Yellowstone will receive $300,000 and some of it will be used to reclaim a closed road in the park. The rest will be used for “Expedition into Yellowstone,” a drive to learn more about the park’s wildlife.
One of the program’s main targets is grizzly bears, a threatened species.
The money will help pay for the purchase of four special radio collars, at a cost of $5,000 each, to be placed around the necks of four adult female grizzlies.
Such collars generally transmit a radio signal that can be tracked by biologists who usually fly over the park once a week to find bears and note their locations.
The new collars, however, contain computers that can access the GPS, a network of military satellites orbiting earth.
The new collars will transmit information 24 hours a day on the location of bears directly to computer terminals used by biologists. The readings will be accurate to within 100 yards.
As a result, biologists will be able to collect a round-the-clock log of grizzly activity without worrying about weather that could ground airplanes.
“Instead of having to fly, now we just get a printout,” said Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone’s grizzly management coordinator.
Cotton straps used to keep the transmitters on the bears will rot away after about one year, when the transmitter will drop to the ground and emit a radio signal so a team can recover it, replace its batteries and use it again.
Schwarzkopf praised the application of the GPS technology, which has never been used before to track bears.
He also had an observation about an unidentified tourist who slapped a grizzly cub on the rump Wednesday.
Yellowstone bear management specialist Kerry Gunther said the incident in the Roaring Mountain area south of Mammoth Hot Springs provoked the cub’s mother, which charged within 3 feet of the tourist. The sow roared and snapped her teeth, but did not attack.
“Stupidity is its own reward and this guy was damn lucky to be alive,” said Schwartzkopf, who was told of the incident after he arrived here.
The tourist drove away and was not cited.