Grizzly Bear Tracking, Citizen-Science, and the Mountains of Montana:
Over the past several years, grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have been facing increasing threats. With significant habitat changes– including a decline in whitebark pine trees, a key food source for the bears– grizzlies have been forced to alter their travel patterns and expand their distribution. While grizzly movement and population changes are a serious consideration in land management and development, gathering the necessary data for an accurate picture is labor intensive, time consuming, and expensive.
Enter our hero: the citizen-scientist. Over the course of three weekends in the late summer and fall of 2011, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) teamed up with the Rocky Mountain Office of the Natural Resources Defense Council to lead a group of volunteer citizen-scientists in gathering their first installment of grizzly data. The goal of the project was to survey the entire north slope of the Centennial Mountain Range in Southwestern Montana, spanning 42 miles of beautiful terrain. With funding support from Patagonia and the Dillon Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Gregg Treinish, ASC Executive Director and Founder, trained and led volunteers in their search for grizzly.
During each workshop weekend, citizen-scientists camped at picturesque Red Rock Lake with the Centennials as their back-drop. After receiving training in GPS usage, bear safety, basic tracking, vegetation identification, Leave No Trace ethics, and an overview of the project’s scope, 43 people from various walks of life set out hiking to acquire data. Traveling along trails, fence lines, roads, and other areas deemed likely bear routes, participants searched for evidence of grizzlies. Grizzly tracks, scats, rub trees, digs, and one bear sighting were recorded, each verified by a trained guide. Several dozen hair samples were collected and carefully scrutinized before four were sent on to a lab for DNA verification. This effort provided concrete evidence confirming the presence of grizzly bears in an area facing increasing threats from human development. The data will aid the BLM in their grizzly bear protection and land management decisions in the Centennials.
As valuable as this information is, Treinish believes the project’s impact on its participants is equally important. “Obtaining data from this vast of an area would have been nearly impossible without the effort of the volunteers,” he said. “Additionally, volunteers have expressed that they now feel connected to the area on a much deeper level.” In educating and training a new group of citizen-scientists, the study added to the ranks of informed conservation and grizzly bear advocates.
Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, founded in January of 2011, is committed to uniting the adventure and science communities for the acquisition of information that is essential to the preservation of our planet, but otherwise difficult to obtain. Citizen-science is a major aspect of the organization’s mission. To learn more about ASC and ways you can become involved, please visitwww.adventureandscience.org.
by: Liam Dillaway