Our own Bear will be pleased: Recent research shows there are about 765 grizzlies in Montana's Northern Continental Divide ecosystem—about 2.5 times as many as scientists previously thought. Scientists reached their conclusions after completing a 5-year, $4.8-million project that involved collecting bear fur rubbed against trees and branches. Hair collected from the "bear rubs" was then sent to a lab for DNA analysis.
"The great thing about bear rubs is you aren't asking the bear to do anything it's not normally doing. They're just rubbing all the time," said U.S. Geological Survey research scientist Katherine Kendall. The process of rubbing, she explains, is a form of chemical communication that bears use to mark their territory. "You get very precise estimates of trends. That's difficult to do with bears."
Wildlife managers are now grappling with how to process and apply this unexpected result to current bear management plans. Although the bear is currently endangered, higher population numbers could lead to delisting, and possibly even hunting, a la the wolf. Like the wolf, opinions about how best to manage the animals runs hot and controversial.
The project itself garnered a bit of mainstream controversy when Sen. John McCain criticized it while running for president in 2008. Now he's softened a bit, telling the Washington Post:
"It's probably right up there with the mapping of the human genome. It justifies every penny of the taxpayer dollars ever spent on it. The bears in Arizona will be very interested in it."
Do I detect a hint of sarcasm in Mr. McCain's response? Might I remind you, Senator, that the Northern Continental Divide Grizzly Project produced this groundbreaking footage:
Viral infamy for ursus arctos horribilis? If you ask me, that's money well spent.
image credit: GFick