MISSOULA – A “hair of the bear” study has accounted for at least 42 grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains and Yaak River drainage regions of northwestern Montana.
Research leader Kate Kendall reported her findings to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Tuesday, the Missoulian reported.
Researchers used about 800 scent-baited “hair corrals” where rings of barbed wire snagged hair as the animals stepped over or under it to investigate the scent. They also collected samples in about 1,200 places where bears naturally stop to scratch their backs, such as trees, posts and poles in a 3,750-square-mile area in the mountains above Eureka, Libby, Trout Creek, Yaak and Troy.
The samples, collected in 2012 and analyzed this year, identified 38 grizzlies by their DNA. Researchers also knew about four collared bears whose DNA didn’t appear in the samples.
“That’s the rock-solid minimum count we detected,” Kendall told the committee at its meeting in Missoula. Including visiting bears and bears that died during the study, the figure could be as high as 54, she said.
The number is important because the health of the grizzly population influences how much logging and mining can take place in the area.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Wayne Kasworm said before the DNA study, he relied on a six-year rolling average based on sightings, captures and mortality to estimate the region had about 37 grizzlies.
The Cabinet-Yaak area is one of six in the continental United States where the federal government is committed to restoring grizzly bears, currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Similar research has pegged the number of grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, between Glacier National Park and Missoula, at almost 1,000.