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If you’re a grizzly bear, Northwestern Montana is the place to be. A comprehensive study of grizzly bears conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey determined that 765 bears live between Missoula and the Canadian border — nearly two-and-a-half times more bears than previously thought.
To figure out precise bear populations, throughout 2004 more than 200 USGS researchers collected over 34,000 bear hair samples and put them through rigorous DNA analysis. The analysis identified 563 individual grizzly bears, and scientists used statistical models to calculate the number of bears not sampled, which yielded a solid estimate of 765.
“Overall, the genetic health of the population is good,” said Kate Kendall, USGS Scientist and lead researcher on the project. “With diversity in the population approaching levels seen in undisturbed populations in Canada and Alaska, there is no evidence that population size was ever severely reduced or that its connection to Canadian populations was broken. The genetic structure suggests that there has been population growth between 1976 and 2007.”
While Montana bears appear genetically healthy, the researchers did find that human development has limited interbreeding between certain bear populations in specific areas. For this reason and others, the healthy Northern Montana bear population will still require consistent monitoring and research.
So it seems like the Missoula-to-Canada corridor basically functions as the hip new nabe for bears: Full of life and opportunity, but still in danger of overcrowding. Just remember what I learned in NYC, bears: If stroller moms and celebrities start showing up, it’s time to move to Greenpoint.
— Ted Alvarez