They concentrated on the most specialized and technical areas this morning in concurrent sessions – one on estimating population, the other on the physology of bears, also dealing a lot with behavior. Hence we learned about mothers with cubs reacting more to road activity through their cardiac measurements, for instance. Johanna attended those. I went to the population one, and promptly drowned in information from all over the world about bear population determination. The overall picture that emerged for me was one of recovering populations and the challenges they present, not the least of which is funding limitations, but with politics running a close second.
In northeastern Minnesota, for instance, they discovered that their Black Bear population was declining and started reducing harvest quotas in 2008. They had a hard time telling if there was a recovery, and that difficulty continues today. It’s been eight years now. This amounts to a cautionary tale, reported to us by Andrew Tri, the Department of Natural Resources’ numbers guy. Minnesota bear managers lost their main population estimation tool just as they started reducing their harvest quota. A federal livestock regulation about antibiotics was determined to apply to bears, because people eat bear meat. Up until that time they had used a tetracycline method. All they had to do was wrap the drug in bacon and bait the bears with it. The dose marks the bear’s teeth, which are then given back to DNR when the bear is harvested. Without that data, DNR went to computer modeling and Tri spun forth the saga of how each of those models had failed. They would work for a year or two but beyond that the models would yield implausible results. Right now they have come up with a kind of hybrid combination of methods that they hope is working. The quota remains reduced.
In Alberta, Grizzly Bears were listed by the province as endangered and a recovery area up in the mountains was designated. They have figured out that the small population in that area has begun to grow. In the adjacent area, largely agricultural, you can guess what is happening. So managers in Alberta had to distinguish between the Grizzly population within their jurisdiction and the bears that were coming across borders from British Columbia and Montana. They have determined so far that more of the trouble bears are coming from other jurisdictions than from their own recovery area. Andrea Morehouse described those efforts. Part of the funding for that research came from an outfit called the “Yellowsone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.” These transboundary issues are becoming more and more important – especially with the fragmented populations being seen in many parts of the world. If those habitats can be linked, it makes a big change in the ecological considerations, including genetic diversity and carrying capacity determination. In population terms, the separation needs to be less distance than a female bear can travel to reproduce. That might seem a small consideration in Alaska, but just take a look at the Brown Bear population in Greece and the Balkans and Carpathians and you’ll see habitat scattered like buckshot. Similar situation in Hokkaido.
A highlight for me was a presentation from Romania, with bear biologist Mihai Pop explaining their efforts to convince regional bureaucrats that the harvest reports they were getting were not only inaccurate, but the more dependent the region was on guided bear hunting the more inaccurate the harvest reports were. Scientific. Undeniably scientific. This is very similar to the situation the IUCN bear committee faces in having to deal with the bear bile farms strictly through conservation terms, with no consideration whatsoever for animal welfare. It’s maybe absurd on the surface, but it’s also usually how you have to get things done when you work on an international level.