Latest from The Spokesman-Review
WILDLIFE — The case against a Texas man accused of illegally discharging a firearm in Glacier National Park this summer, when he shot a grizzly bear he said was charging him, went no further than his not-guilty plea in a federal court late last month, the Missoulian reports
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has dismissed the charge against 57-year-old Brian D. Murphy.
The charge was dismissed with prejudice, meaning a final determination has been made based on the merits of the case. Murphy cannot be re-charged at a later date, reports Vince Devlin.
Here's the rest of Devlin's report;
Murphy’s attorney, Jason T. Holden of Great Falls, called it a “perfect scenario to have a case dismissed with prejudice.”
“The government did the right thing because Mr. Murphy did the right thing,” Holden said, adding that Murphy “had every right to act in defense of his life.”
Holden described his client as a part-time Montana resident who spends summers in the state, and is “an avid hiker and photographer with great respect for our national parks, their resources and wildlife.”
Murphy, he said, did not fire his .357 revolver until the charging bear – a grizzly, Holden said DNA tests later confirmed – was 7 to 10 feet away, and not until bear spray discharged when the animal was 15 to 25 feet away failed to deter it.
The wounded bear was never located. DNA samples were obtained from blood and fur at the scene.
Murphy was hiking the Mount Brown Lookout Trail, one of Glacier’s most challenging, on Saturday, July 26.
Although he was hiking alone, which park officials advise against, Murphy was wearing bear bells and packing bear spray, Holden said, and also “yelping” to warn any bears in the area of his approach, and because he was aware other hikers were behind him on the trail.
“When Mr. Murphy first saw the bear it was running down a hill toward the other hikers,” Holden said. “He yelled, ‘Bear!’ to warn them, and as soon as he yelled, the bear turned and came straight at him.”
Murphy first discharged his bear spray using his left hand, and when that didn’t stop the animal, fired with the .357 in his right hand, according to Holden.
“The bear fell back and was motionless,” Holden said. Murphy “withdrew and double-timed it out of there, taking the two hikers who were behind him with him. He stopped everyone else on the trail, too, told the first ranger he came to what had happened, and fully and voluntarily cooperated with rangers.”
When rangers arrived at the scene the grizzly was gone, but there was evidence it had been wounded. Murphy turned his revolver over to rangers, who reported it contained five unspent rounds and one spent casing.
While a 2010 federal law makes it legal to carry firearms in national parks, it remains illegal to discharge one in many of them, including Glacier.
Murphy was not charged by park rangers with the misdemeanor, which carries a $500 fine, until nearly two months later.
Holden appeared on his behalf in West Glacier on Sept. 26 to enter the not-guilty plea in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong.
“I informed the court we would raise the affirmative defense of self-defense, and after we presented our case to the government, they agreed it was an appropriate case to dismiss with prejudice,” Holden said.
Michael S. Lahr, an assistant U.S. attorney in Helena, filed the motion to dismiss the charge with prejudice. Strong granted the motion Thursday.
Lahr did not return a message Tuesday seeking comment.
“In a situation such as Mr. Murphy’s, where his life was in mortal danger, he has a right to defend his life,” Holden said. “That is not against the law, and that’s why the government dismissed this case.”
“I don’t want to give the wrong impression,” he went on. “You can’t willy-nilly fire a gun in a national park – you can’t. You can’t if a bear is 50 feet from you. But this was a full, straight-on charge and attack.”
FORESTS — A burning issue will be discussed in Colville on Oct. 22: “Fires and Forests, East of the Cascade Divide” will be presented by John F. Marshall sponsored by the Panorama chapter of the Society of American Foresters, Northeast Chapter of the Washington Farm Forestry Association and Humanities Washington.
- The free program starts at 6 p.m. in the theater of Colville campus of Spokane Community College, 985 South Elm St.
Marshall, a professional speaker, fish and wildlife authority and photographer from Wenatchee, plans to evoke a conversation about fires and firefighting, past and present.
“The only thing for sure is every wild land area will burn. We can take a measure of control through prescribed fire, or we can take a random chance through wild fire,” he says.
“With this past summer’s horrific wildfires fresh in peoples’ memories, this is a conversation that communities like ours should be having to better prepare for the eventual wildland fire in our area,” said Bart Ausland, chair of the Panorama Chapter of the SAF.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Why did the deer cross the road and risk its life against speeding vehicles?
Because it wanted to get to the other side, the way it evolved to move from cover to feed, bedding spot to water, and summer range to winter range over the centuries.
Tough year for wildlife in Canada's mountain parks
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 6, 10 black bears and one grizzly bear were struck and killed by vehicles or trains in Yoho and Kootenay national parks in B.C. and Banff National Park in Alberta; 16 elk have died on the parks' roads, as have five moose, three wolves and one cougar. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Moose in wild and not-so-wild areas are popular subjects for in Inland Northwest shutterbugs, as one can see in a glance on our Readers' Outdoor Photo Gallery.
But some neighborhoods are more oriented to family living than others.
"This moose family visits us frequently in the Ponderosa neighborhood," said Bob Fulton as he emailed the photo.
FISHING — Although it flows into the Clark Fork River below Interstate 90, Fish Creek is a sleeper resource unknown to most anglers. Luckly, Montana conservationists and fisheries managers have taken note.
Here's the latest effort to preserve the habitat and potential for a fishery that extends to headwaters in the proposed Great Burn Wilderness area of the Bitterroot Mountains near Alberton.
FWP Seeks Comment on Proposed Addition to Fish Creek WMA
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is seeking public review and comment on its proposal to acquire 158 acres adjacent to the 34,573 acre Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) west of Alberton.
The proposed addition includes one half mile of Fish Creek and would help protect important habitat for sensitive species such as bull trout, westslope cutthroat and Canada lynx, as well as elk and other wildlife species.
The lands under consideration are currently owned by Five Valleys Land Trust and would be purchased for $350,000, cost-shared by FWP’s Habitat Montana Fund, matching Pittman-Robertson funds from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Thompson Falls Mitigation Fund, and Westslope Trout Unlimited.
FWP will hold a public hearing in Alberton on Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Alberton Community Center (701 Railroad Ave) to discuss the proposal and take public comment.
A draft environmental assessment on the proposal can be found online at fwp.mt.gov under “Public Notices.” Or, request it by mail from Region 2 FWP, 3201 Spurgin Rd., Missoula 59804; phone 406-542-5500; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments can be submitted online at fwp.mt.gov under “Public Notices,” or should be directed to Sharon Rose using the contact information above. Comments must be received by FWP no later than 5 p.m. on November 7, 2014.
The Fish & Wildlife Commission will make a final decision on the acquisition at its December meeting in Helena, and the Montana Board of Land Commissioners must also review the proposal.
WILDLIFE — Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife workers used helicopter net gunners Wednesday to capture eight infected bighorn ewes along the Grande Ronde River.
The wild sheep are to be transported to a South Dakota State University facility for research on pneumonia outbreaks that have been deadly to the bighorn sheep in the Hell's Canyon area as well as in the Yakima River area and in Montana.
Here's more detail on the capture and research project from Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune:
Bighorn sheep near Heller Bar infected with a newly discovered strain of the deadly pneumonia bacteria that has plagued wild sheep herds for decades will be captured and taken to a South Dakota research facility this week.
The capture is designed to prevent the spread of the new strain, which is killing both adults and lambs, to other nearby herds.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Idaho Department of Fish and Game plan to use a helicopter to capture eight ewes that are an isolated subgroup to the Black Butte Herd. They will be trucked to South Dakota State University, where scientists are studying the disease. Any sheep that can’t be captured will be euthanized, according to a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The larger Black Butte Herd was initially infected with the bacteria, which causes pneumonia, in a 1995 outbreak that was traced to contact between bighorn sheep and a domestic goat. Die-offs of bighorn sheep throughout the West have followed contact between wild sheep and domestic goats and domestic sheep.
The 1995 outbreak led to mass die-offs of wild sheep throughout the Hells Canyon region.
In general, animals that survived the initial outbreak have been able to live normal lives and reproduce. But their lambs often suffer high rates of mortality year after year.
The new strain, discovered this summer, appears to be more deadly. Rich Harris, manager of sheep, goats and moose for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Olympia, said adult sheep that have previously been exposed to the mycoplasma ovipneumoniae bacteria are dying from the new strain. Wildlife managers want to remove animals exposed to the bacteria prior to the onset of the bighorn mating period, which begins later this month. Rams travel beyond their normal home ranges while looking for mates during that rut, leaving open the possibility that a ram could mate with the ewes and then carry the new strain to other herds. Harris said the new strain has not been detected in sheep outside of the ewes living near Heller Bar.
"We believe these ewes are not only a remnant population with little chance of recovery, but a threat to other bighorn herds throughout Hells Canyon," Harris said.
The new strain was identified by researchers at Washington State University. Harris said the bacteria has no adverse effects on humans and there is little risk to other animals.
Wildlife managers don’t know where the new strain came from or if there has been new contact between wild sheep and domestic sheep or goats.
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — If you're one of those critics who always has a better idea for running Washington's Fish and Wildlife Department, here's your chance.
The $139,000-a -year top position will be open at the end of the year as WDFW Director Phil Anderson retires.
Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman puts the job into perspective:
Think you can handle managing all the fish and wildlife in Washington — not to mention the folks passionate about every single last critter, their legislators, plus deal with federal and tribal issues, manage 1,600 employees and a million acres, all without breaking down and running off to Paraguay with the $376 million annually budgeted to your agency?
The job is serious and complex, Walgamott points out, quoting Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association:
“While the job carries a certain amount of prestige, it is thankless and controversial. Every decision the director makes brings a silent nod of approval from those who benefit from the decision, but more importantly, triggers a tsunami of manure from those who do not,” writes Floor, a former salmon program manager and agency spokesman.
"It’s hard to know if Washington will get a new director as flat-out dedicated to the job as Anderson," Walgamott says. "But should you feel you’re up to snuff, here’s a link to the job posting."
WILDLIFE — The Pocatello Zoo is holding the contest to name a grizzly bear that was moved into the facility after it became too accustomed roaming around rural residences in Wyoming.
The 2-year-old female grizzly that was recently relocated to the zoo from the Shoshone National Forest.
Submit names by Oct. 12 to email@example.com or call the Zoo at (208) 234-6264.
Zoo staff will choose three finalist names from the submissions, and the public will have a chance to vote online, via phone and at ZooBoo starting Oct 13. Voters are required to donate a minimum of $1 along with their vote. The winning name will be the one that gets the most donations and will be announced on Oct. 27.
The grizzly bear is currently in quarantine at the zoo, but will eventually be on exhibit with the zoo’s matriarch bear, Stripes.
“We are thrilled to be able to give this girl a home,” zoo administrator, Peter Pruett said. “She needed to be relocated and we have a beautiful home for her here at the Pocatello Zoo.
WILDLIFE – State wildlife officials plan to capture and remove eight bighorn ewes in southeast Washington this week to curb the spread of a bacteria deadly to other wild sheep in the area.
A contractor for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Idaho Department of Fish and Game will attempt to capture the animals near the confluence of the Grande Ronde and Snake rivers in southeast Asotin County using nets launched from a helicopter, Washington officials just announced in a media release.
The sheep will be transported in slings under the helicopter to a staging area near Heller Bar on the Snake River, and then loaded into a trailer.
The sheep will be taken to a captive facility at South Dakota State University where bighorn research is already under way to learn more about how to manage the bacterium Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae that causes fatal pneumonia in susceptible bighorns.
Any animals evading live capture will be euthanized, officials said.
Rich Harris, wildlife manager for WDFW, said the bacteria has no adverse effects on humans and there are no appreciable risks of exposing other animals during the capture and transport operation because it has poor survival beyond the respiratory system of sheep and goats.
“We believe these ewes are not only a remnant population with little chance of recovery, but a threat to other bighorn herds throughout Hells Canyon,” Harris said.
The sheep are a subgroup of the Black Butte herd, said Harris. The Black Butte herd historically included as many as 215 animals — including Washington's largest rams.
But it has suffered from pneumonia-related poor lamb survival on and off since an all-age outbreak in 1995 reduced the herd significantly. The ongoing pneumonia in lambs has prevented population recovery.
Over the past 20 years, bighorn sheep in the Hells Canyon region along both sides of the Snake River have suffered from pneumonia.
Typically adult bighorns surviving initial outbreaks of bacterial pneumonia have normal survival and reproduction, but few lambs survive to adulthood.
Researchers this summer discovered that in addition to 100 percent mortality in lambs, many of the relatively isolated ewes in the portion of the Black Butte herd range showed signs of pneumonia. Analyses conducted by the Washington State University diagnostic laboratory revealed that these ewes and their deceased lambs had contracted a new strain of the bacteria that appears to kill bighorns regardless of their prior exposure.
Harris said the inter-agency decision was made to remove the sheep now to keep them from spreading the bacteria to other animals during the mating season, which begins later this month.
Past outbreaks among bighorn sheep in Washington and other parts of the western United States have been linked to contact between wild sheep and domestic sheep or goats. These domestic animals carry Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae but are unaffected by the bacteria.
The outbreak of the Black Butte herd in 1995 is believed to have originated from contact with a domestic goat. It is unknown at this time if there has been additional contact between domestic goats or sheep and the Black Butte bighorns.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — The trail cam video of an Okanogan County black bear turning a scented tree into a massage parlor (at right) has been amusing thousands of viewers since it was posted this week by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin.
If you like the video posted here, you'll LOVE this video of GRIZZLY BEARS scratching their way into ecstasy — complete with music — in Banff National Park, Alberta.
HUNTING — Eat your heart out bowhunters.
Here's one that got away during this year's rut.
Something to look forward to next year, says Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson.
Previous surveys released in 2012 pegged the decline at 28 percent, but a closer look at losses in Latin America and Southeast Asia provided even more sobering numbers.
Humans are the root of the problem, where unregulated hunting, overfishing, deforestation, pollution and various forms of habitat destruction are taking their toll.
WWF scientists found that some bird, fish, reptile and mammal populations are increasing, some are stable and some are declining. But the declining populations are declining so sharply that the overall trend is down — and Earth has lost half its wildlife overall.
The bleakest outlook is for freshwater populations — fish, frogs, shorebirds — which have declined 76 percent. Habitat loss and water pollution are the main drivers.
ENVIRONMENT – "Picnic with the Beavers," a hands-on environmental field learning day, complete with beavers and geared to families, is set for next Sunday, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. at Liberty Lake State Park.
The event is coordinated by The Lands Council.
Read an S-R story about one local effort to put beavers to work on the region's landscape.
Sign up for the Picnic with the Beavers: (509) 209-2851.
Here’s a ranking in which Idaho is improving: According to State Farm Insurance claims statistics, we’ve dropped from 26th to 28th in the nation for likelihood of motorists hitting a deer on our roads. West Virginia has remained atop the list in first place for the past eight years; Hawaii is last. Washington ranks 41st; Utah, 34th; and Montana, 3rd.
State Farm found that the odds of a driver hitting a deer on Idaho roads is now 1 in 172, slightly higher than the national odds of 1 in 169. Idaho’s top months for car-deer collisions are November, followed by October, followed by December. The company’s tips for avoiding such collisions: Use caution in known deer zones; always wear a seatbelt; watch out from 6-9 p.m., when deer are most active; use high beams when possible; and avoid distractions like cell phones and eating. If a deer collision appears inevitable, State Farm advises drivers not to attempt to swerve out of the way, as that could be even more dangerous. Here's a link to the full 50-state comparison.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson caught this bull moose last week feeding among autumn colors.
The moose, the largest member of the deer family in North America, is in the final stages of rubbing velvet off the huge antlers its grown since spring — a ridiculously short period for developing two massive bones that likely weigh around 15 pounds apiece.
WILDLIFE — An anti-hunting group says it has put up a billboard in the hometown of a Washington bowhunter recently bitten by a bear with the underlying message — "You had it coming."
While hunting deer with his son, Jerry Hause of Longview was treed and bitten in the foot and leg by a black bear over the Labor Day weekend after he apparently got between a sow and cub while bowhunting in the area.
Always game for a distasteful headline-grabbing jab at hunters, PETA apparently paid to place a billboard in Longview that shows a bear pursuing a hunter up a tree above the words "Payback Is Hell. Leave Animals Alone."
"No one wants to be treated like a living target or to suffer and die—not humans or any other animals," says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. "PETA's billboard is a reminder that hunting means causing fear, pain, suffering, and death, and there's nothing 'sporting' about it."
On the other hand, God designed life on earth with predators and prey. For example, deer and elk suffer fear and pain as they are ripped, disemboweled and killed by wolves or coyotes. At least human hunters strive for a quick, clean kill.
It's shocking, but true. Real life isn't like Disneyland.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bald eagles and loons will take a big hit while blue jays are among the species that could prosper as the earth's climate heats up. But overall, the outlook is grim.
Half of all bird species in North America — including the bald eagle — are at risk of severe population decline by 2080 if the swift pace of global warming continues, the National Audubon Society concluded in a study released Monday.
- See the report: 314 Species on the Brink.
“The scale of the disruption we’re projecting is a real punch in the gut,” said Gary Langham, chief Audubon scientist.
PUBLIC LANDS – National conservation groups are backing a bill in Congress that would help prevent wildfire fighting operations from dipping into funding for forest health and wildfire prevention programs.
“How we account for fire suppression costs in the federal budget absolutely must change if we want better managed forests and fewer catastrophic fires,” said Whit Fosburgh, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
In a recent conference call to bring public attention to the issue, Fosburgh and leaders from the American Forest Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service, spoke about the need to get Congress to vote on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would steer management to preventing fires, improving habitat and preventing catastrophic fires that damage local economies, private and public property, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
- “There are a lot of impacts on public lands when it comes to recreational opportunities: campground shutdown, trails shutdown and all sorts of impacts,” said Rita Hite, executive vice president, American Forest Foundation.
- “We don’t borrow regionally, we borrow nationally. This impacts all Forest Service programs across the board,” said Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, USDA.
“Anywhere outside the Beltway, this would seem like an academic fight about accounting principles," said Fosburgh, who's based in Washington, D.C. "However, it has very real impacts on all 190-plus million acres of the National Forest System.
"The good news is that there is a fix: the bipartisan Wildlife Disaster Funding Act. The bad news is that Congress needs to act to pass the bill.”
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Here's a short glimpse (below) of what's going on in elk country this month, and why some of the small trees you might be passing look a little worse for wear.
The rut is on.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — As many times as I've seen common nighthawks swooping and scooping bugs out of the sky with their distinctive staccato chirps, I've never seen one resting on the ground.
Check this instructive photo from Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.
"We often times see these birds in flight, but don’t get the chance to see them landed very often!
"They have huge mouths, their small beak makes it look small – but it goes back to their eye!"
WILDLIFE — At least one farmer already is experiencing deer damaging an alfalfa field in otherwise charred landscape in the Methow Valley region, according to the latest report from the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department's wildlife program.
The Carlton Complex fires burned and leaped across more than 256,000 acres in July and August, the largest fire covering recorded in Washington. And to add to the issues, mudslides and flooding has resulted from recent thunderstorms over the denuded landscape.
Department biologist say significant portions of mule deer winter range have been burned. Some has been burned badly, but the burning varied in intensity and some areas are starting to sprout green and recover with the rains. Seed is being ordered for revegetating some areas.
Grazing permits have been effected and department staff is working with some farmers and orchard operators who are scrambling to replace burned fences to keep deer out of their crops.
Hunters will have to appreciate this portion of the report on this week's activities:
Specialist Heilhecker visited with a landowner in Tonasket who is experiencing deer damage to her alfalfa field. This individual called last year at this time with the same concerns of not being able to get a third cutting. Specialist Heilhecker issued a kill permit and a damage permit valid until the start of general season and reminded her that she needs to open her land to some public hunting. Whether public hunting is allowed on the property will more closely monitored.
WILDLIFE — A three-week-old mountain lion kitten orphaned in northeastern Washington is headed for a zoo, and that's not all bad, state Fish and Wildlife Department officials say.
“Education is important at American Zoological Association-accredited zoos, which have on-site staff to teach visitors about the natural history of these critters,” said department cougar specialist Rich Beausoleil.
He said the kitten will be transported to ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania, which has a reputation for good, natural facilities and education.
The kitten found this week in the Kettle Falls area will join the other 32 cougar kittens from Washington that have been rescued over the past 12 years and placed to live out captive lives.
But think of it this way. These mountain lions are in facilities in urban areas where they’re seen each year by a total of 17 million people.
“These are people who get a chance to learn something about a critter they’d never otherwise see,” said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman in Spokane.
PUBLIC LANDS — The 67,000-acre Big Cougar Fire near the confluence of the Salmon and Snake rivers has raised hell with one of Idaho's choice public-land hunting areas in Hells Canyon. But there's still a lot of terrain, which hunters now are able to re-explore.
Main roads, including the Zaza road, in the Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area are being reopened to pre-fire status on Saturday, Aug. 23, the Idaho Fish and Game Department says. Some of the roads are normally closed to motor vehicles to protect wildlife.
Officials say firefighters are still doing work in the area and warn of hazards:
Trees and snags Obviously burned or compromised trees have a high potential of falling but also unburned trees may be more susceptible to falling if they’ve lost the shelter and support from neighboring trees. Be very cautious during windy conditions.
Rocks The dislodging and falling of rocks is another significant risk, especially in steep sloped areas such as the breaks and grasslands of Craig Mountain.
Unstable ground Soils will be more unstable after a wildfire when they’ve lost the stability from plants and trees. This may result in less stable hiking conditions or even may lead to landslides, especially during or after a heavy rain event.
Root wells After a wildfire has burned through a forested or shrubby area, sometimes the root system of shrubs and trees are also burned out leaving a void that may still be covered by ash and debris.
Info: IFG regional office in Lewiston, (208) 799-5010.
CONSERVATION — First the state bird, then an elk, and a trout.
These iconic Idaho species are featured on the state's wildlife specialty license plates that can be seen on the front and rear bumpers of thousands of vehicles in Idaho in license plate program that raises money for wildlife conservation.
Funding from sales of these plates is earmarked for managing wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—more than 10,000 species or 98 percent of Idaho’s species diversity.
Idaho Fish and Game has received about $850,000 a year in recent years from revenue generated by the three wildlife plates.
- Idaho’s 30 specialty license plates — benefiting non-profit efforts including trails work and even a Corvette club and an appaloosa horse club — raise $1.6 million a year for the various groups that benefit from them.
Idaho’s first wildlife license plate, the mountain bluebird, was approved by the Legislature in 1992 and went on sale July 1, 1993. A second plate, the Rocky Mountain elk, was added in 1998, followed by the cutthroat trout plate in 2003.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs, nor are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent to implement wildlife diversity management and conservation. The primary source of revenue is the Idaho wildlife specialty license plates, partnered with direct donations, federal and private grants, and fundraising initiatives.
WILDLIFE RESEARCH — Washington State University researchers are learning whether grizzly bears make and use tools.
With claws and teeth that can rip open anything from a beer can to beaver dens and moose carcasses, it seems as though tools would be unnecessary.
But while it’s too soon to reach a broad scientific conclusion, researchers say at least one female bear at the WSU lab is demonstrating that use of tools comes naturally.
The study, being conducted at WSU’s Bear Research Education and Conservation Center, is documenting eight grizzlies faced with the challenge of getting their claws into a dangling food snack that’s too high to reach, reports Linda Weiford of WSU News. No training is involved. The researchers are chronicling innate learning behavior.
Information gleaned from the study can be used to help wildlife managers solve grizzly-related challenges and problems, according to researchers, and also assist zookeepers in keeping captive bears mentally and physically stimulated. The study should be completed this fall.
“While it’s generally accepted that grizzly bears are intelligent creatures, until now no scientific research had been conducted on their problem-solving skills,” said WSU veterinary biologist Lynne Nelson, who is overseeing the study.
Here are more details from the WSU report:
In WSU’s controlled setting, eight brown bears—three males and five females—are being tested separately and are at various phases of the experiment, said Nelson. To date, a 9-year-old grizzly named Kio has sailed through each phase, essentially nailing the hypothesis that the species is capable of tool use.
Here’s how the study works: Inside the grizzly bears’ play area, a donut is hung on a string from a wire, too high for the animals to reach. First, each bear is tested to see if it will stand on a sawed-off tree stump to reach up and get the donut down. Once this is mastered, researchers move the stump away from the hanging donut and place it on its side.
Here’s where things get challenging. The bear must move the stump until it is positioned underneath the donut and then flip the stump over into a makeshift footstool.
Kio mastered this early: “She manipulates an inanimate object in several steps to help her achieve a goal, which in this case is to obtain food,” said Nelson. “This fits the definition of tool use.”
The other grizzlies are in the process of figuring out the feat, she explained, which confirms what the center’s scientists have long suspected about the keen brain power of bears. Frequently, Nelson and her colleagues witness grizzlies doing remarkable things, including using a single claw in a key-like manner to try to open locks.
Why should humans scientifically assess tool use among America’s greatest predators?
- “If grizzly bears are capable of using tools to interact with their environment, that’s important for us to know because it provides a fuller picture of how they think,” said WSU veterinary student Alex Waroff, who designed the study and who, with Nelson, tests the bears five mornings a week.
- “By better understanding their cognitive abilities, we can help reduce encounters that can turn deadly for bears and humans alike,” he said.
- Such understanding also could shed light on whether the species is capable of manipulating its environment when faced with changes in the wild, such as shifts in habitat conditions or declining food sources, he explained.
Most of the center’s grizzly bears were deemed “problem bears” in the wild and were brought to WSU as an alternative to being shot and killed.
“Grizzlies are smart foragers and they’ll work hard to get at food – which, as we’re seeing, can include some pretty sophisticated strategies,” Nelson said.
Incidentally, the glazed donuts, donated by a local grocery store, are used to entice the bears for the study and aren’t part of their normal diet, said Nelson.
“Yes, they like sweets – just like humans,” she said. “But we’re careful to restrict their intake.”
PUBLIC LANDS — Methow Valley and Tonasket Ranger Districts on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest have reopened many of the areas that were closed because of the Carlton Complex wildfires. Areas reopened on Sunday include:
- East Chewuch area
- Upper West Chewuch area, including Andrews Creek and 30-Mile trailheads
- North Summit and South Summit areas
- Buttermilk Creek area south to Pateros, including Black Pine Lake, Foggy Dew, Loup Loup and JR campgrounds. West Fork Buttermilk, East Fork Buttermilk, Libby Lake, Crater Creek, Foggy Dew and Eagle-Oval Lakes trailheads
- Sawtooth Backcountry
Areas that remain closed include:
- 8-mile and Falls Creek drainages, including: Honeymoon, Ruffed Grouse, Nice, Flat, Buck Lake, Falls Creek, Chewuch and Camp 4 campgrounds; and the Billy Goat and Lake Creek Trailheads
- Little Bridge Creek and Twisp River drainages, including: War Creek, Mystery, Poplar Flat, South Creek roads and campgrounds, and the Twisp River Horse Camp; War Creek, Williams Creek, Reynolds Creek, South Creek, Gilbert, Scatter, Slate Creek and Wolf Creek trailheads.
- Road Closures: Finley Road #4100300 and Pole Pick Mountain Roads #4100500 and 4100535 as they are impassable. Other short-term temporary road closures may occur in the burned area due to heavy equipment doing road repairs.
The North Cascades Scenic Highway Corridor and Harts Pass, as well as east and west portions of the Pasayten Wilderness, Tiffany Springs Campground, Long Swamp and Chewuch trailheads were not impacted by the fires and remain open.
Info: Methow Valley Ranger District at (509) 996-4000 or go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/okawen/.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — This royal threesome of bull elk photographed in early July by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson is probably polishing up its act, so to speak, for the rut, which is just about ready to kick into gear in elk country across the west.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — While bears have a well-known taste for huckleberries, they also cash in on other fruits.
This black bear sow appears to be giving its cub a lesson in the nutritional benefits of eating chokecherries, according to this great photo snapped this week by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.
WILDLIFE ENFORCEMENT — Washington Fish and Wildlife Police recently helped Montana Fish,Wildlife & Parks officers with a poaching case involving four large bull elk taken from a closed area in Eastern Montana, and multiple suspects living in the Grays Harbor, Pacific, and Thurston County areas of Washington.
Here's Washington Fish and Wildlife report on welcome cooperation to bust these scumbags.
Officer Fairbanks was able to use Montana’s probable cause to obtain a search warrant for evidence in the initial investigation into the poaching of a Montana bull elk. During thi…s investigation, a second illegal elk was identified. Officer Fairbanks organized eight interview teams to contact and interview eight possible suspects. The interview teams were able to identify the shooter of the second elk as two additional illegally harvested bull elk.
At the end of the day four 6x6 elk racks were seized, three of which will score as trophy class elk, which could result in fines of $8,000 per rack in restitution to the State of Montana.
Representatives of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks were extremely appreciative of our efforts, and happy to be taking the racks back to Montana with them. This is a great case of joint operations between Western States.
HIKING — This amazing photo of a hiker retreating to a precarious position on a steep, steep, slope to avoid a grizzly bear on Glacier National Park's Highline Trail was published in The Spokesman-Review on Aug. 2, but only in one edition.
I'm re-posting for those of you who may not have seen it.
Montana photographer Philip Granrud captured the image of a North Carolina man's close call with a grizzly bear while hiking along the trail, which has a dropoff on one side and a vertical cliff on the other.
Everything turned out fine for the hiker and the bear.
Here's a TV video interview with the photographer, including some of his other bear photos from years of cruising through Glacier Park
Here's the Missoulian story about the incident that presented the photo op above.