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The grizzly and the hand of man.

Bruce McLellan needed a grizzly. His benefactors from the American timber industry had come to see their dollars in action, and he did not want to disappoint. The visit wore on. Each stop along the trap line was a bust. One foot snare had nabbed a mountain lion, another a small black bear. The aluminum culvert trap sat empty, its putrid bait untouched. Other snares lay sprung and robbed of their malodorous treats.

"We don't have a problem attracting bears to the site," McLellan explained. "We have a problem getting them in the trap. We've trapped here for 10 years, so there are an awful lot of smart bears. Some of them are brilliant. We've sat around many a night trying to out-psych these guys. We get them only when they make a mistake. "

In late morning of the final day, McLellan had but one snare left to check, one chance left to impress.

The caravan pulled to within 50 yards of a clump of spruce, just off the uphill side of a logging road. McLellan grabbed his rifle, loaded the barrel, and walked with an armed assistant toward the dense stand. As they approached, a wild, mournful bawl let everyone know the verdict. They had themselves a griz.

What started as Bruce McLellan's two-year Master's project through the University of British Columbia is now 10 years old and the subject of his doctoral dissertation. "We found out you can't learn anything about grizzlies in two years," says the 34-year-old Canadian. "It seemed crazy to stop. We had just started to learn." Fred Hovey and Bruce McLellan carry a tranquilized two-year-old grizzly to a shady spot after recording biological data.

His study is now the longest of its kind. Its site covers 1,692 square miles of crown land along the North Fork of the Flathead River, just over the Canadian border in British Columbia. Sitting adjacent to the spires of Glacier National Park, these forest lands are some of the most heavily logged in North America. They are also home to one of the continent's densest grizzly bear populations. Add oil and gas exploration to that mix, and you have an exceptional laboratory for studying the effects of multiple use on grizzlies and their habitat.

"You can study bears all you want, but you can't measure the effect of activities without activities," says Chris Servheen, who coordinates the grizzly-recovery program in the Lower 48. "The beauty of Bruce's study is not only its longevity but also the fact that it's applicable everywhere."

Over the years, McLellan has captured 71 grizzlies, put radio collars on 56 of them, and recorded some 6,000 relocations using radio telemetry. He is now trapping and tracking third generations of study animals. And his results have been astonishing to everyone, including himself.

"When we started," he says, "we expected bears to flee from trucks and helicopters. The thought was that grizzly bears were incompatible with any industry." The results show the population survived and thrived despite intense industrial commotion. "The bottom line is that development per se, if done correctly, is compatible. "

The worst case of displacement he's seen in his decade in the North Fork country involved "Jenni," a female grizzly. One day she lay sleeping near a seismic line, while a Bell 212 helicopter leapfrogged large portable drills her way. Finally, when it was hovering within 100 yards of her day bed, she woke up and started walking, slowly leaving the area. "She took a lot of abuse before she left," McLellan says. "It was really something to hear-a big noise." She returned several days later.

Then there was Jenni's mother, "Melissa, " who stood on an open hillside feeding on huckleberries with her latest two cubs, "Laurel" and "Hardy." Nearby a helicopter whumped the air. The threesome went on eating, standing to watch the activity now and then, backing off only a bit.

In 27 of 37 cases, McLellan observed bears in the open make no effort to move away from aircraft overhead. While under cover, nine of 10 bears stayed put. In general, bears seem more sensitive to aircraft below 165 feet.

McLellan found bears generally reduced their use of cutting units and areas within 110 feet of roads.

"But the greatest bear responses we recorded were caused by people walking where people usually don't go, " he says. "These bears are pretty darn used to logging and helicopters, but they're not used to people on foot in remote areas. "

Says the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Chris Servheen: "I think grizzlies can habituate to anything, given enough time and exposure. "

McLellan's conclusions, though they distress some conservationists, have soothed some industry officials who traditionally viewed the bear as a weapon to be forever used against them. "One of the things Bruce's research is doing is debunking the bear as a symbol," says Lorin Hicks of Seattle-based Plum Creek Timber Company. "The bear has been used either as a symbol of the Wilderness or as a speed bump on the road to progress. " A sign of the changing times, Plum Creek now touts itself as "the largest private owner of grizzly-bear habitat in the world."

Over the years, McLellan's work has been funded by 25 different sponsors. What's unusual is that at least half of those funds have come from industry. Today Plum Creek and the American Forest Foundation (AFF) have added a little to the coffers, as have Canada's Crestbrook Forest Industries, Shell Canada Ltd., and the project's chief patron, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Carlton Owen of the AFF says his organization supports McLellan because of his even-handed approach.

McLellan gives credit for that to his five summers as a logger. "I've lived with loggers. My grandfather was a logger. I understand logging. I can respect loggers' work and their lifestyle. I also understand they can do things better. With a bit of care, they can do things right."

Right, for McLellan, means keeping logging and seismic operations out of snow chutes and creek or river bottoms, which are prime feeding areas for grizzlies. It means keeping clean camps and incinerating garbage, to prevent enticing bears into encounters with humans. It means leaving cover between haul roads and cutting units, and flying higher than 165 feet whenever possible. And most important, it means closing roads once they've fulfilled their role in timber harvest and fossil-fuel exploration. Roads, he says, bring in people. People bring guns. Bears that use roads, then, become easy marks. The No. 1 cause of death among the bears he's studied is people with guns-hunters of the legal and illegal sort. "Blanche" fell to a poacher's bullet. McLellan first caught and collared Blanche in 1979. She had three cubs with her. "She was really a wild bear when we caught her-one of the craziest," est," he says. Over the next seven years, Blanche became the world's most relocated grizzly. He found her radio signal 580 times. He eventually collared at least six of her nine cubs. In 1986, he found her in a pool of blood on the side of a road. "It's like losing a friend," he says.

Even as McLellan took his guests around to check the trap line, he pointed out bear tracks alongside the tire tracks of logging trucks. Road bears often end up as poached bears. The cubs of mother bears that get blown away on roads tend to suffer the same fate. "It's not only genetic, it's cultural," says McLellan.

His studies have shown that seasoned adult bears, particularly males, steer clear of roads. Younger bears and sows with cubs tend to use roads and adjacent areas most-the former out of naivete, the latter to avoid conflicts with cub-killing males. Sows and their female cubs are the most crucial individuals in any grizzly population, as this bear's reproductive rates are among the lowest in the animal kingdom.

Legal hunting is now limited in McLellan's study area. The only way poaching will be limited is to limit access by closing roads. And closing a road involves more than putting up signs or gates that can be ignored. McLellan recommends the use of inexpensive "Kelly humps." These earth mounds piled in front of deep pits running the width of a road keep out all but the most hardy and determined poachers.

"If logging operations came and took the timber properly and shut the roads," says McLellan, "there would be no impact on the bears. "

As it turned out that June day, McLellan showed the AFF's Carlton Owen and Plum Creek's Lorin Hicks more than a routine catch. "It looks like a two-year-old, " McLellan told them, after his armed reconnaissance of the trap site. "In case it has a protective mother close by, everyone be ready to exit real fast. There was a scat there too big to have come from that bear, so it doesn't look good." He took off his knee-high gum boots and slipped on his running shoes.

Owen was the first to see the second golden-brown bruin racing down the slope to defend its fellow. Was it an angry sow or a worried sibling? Whatever it was, it was a life-threatening complication.

Several worried moments later, McLellan re-entered the trap site with a drug-filled syringe at the end of a 10foot jab stick, two armed colleagues at his side. The scene looked like a backwoods S.W.A.T. raid.

Because the grizzly's hind foot had triggered the snare, the panicked bruin was free to charge with afl its front claws extended and thrashing. The animal snapped its teeth and woofed its warning, snarling thunderously as it lunged toward its captors with afl its strength. Luckily, its would-be rescuer stayed at bay in the shadows. McLellan thrust the needle into the back of the captive bear's neck.

The crew backed off just long enough for the anesthetic to do its work. Rifles cocked, they rushed back in and quickly, carefully carried the limp body to the pickup bed. A hundred yards down the road, relatively safe from the whims of the free bear, McLellan and company launched into their routine.

First the bear was splayed on its stomach, its eyes covered with a bandanna to protect them from the sun, insects, and birds. The snare was reattached in case the drugs wore off sooner than expected. The crew then weighed the dozing bear, measured it snout to tad, removed a small tooth for aging purposes, and drew blood for genetics work. A green tattoo on its gum made it officially and forever bear No. 72. Finally, McLellan gently fitted No. 72 with a radio collar good for two years of relocating its wearer before rotting off.

The grizzly turned out to be a 155pound subadult male. His cohort was his sister. The episode ended without further incident when Bear No. 72, "Owen," awoke from his drug-induced nap under a shade tree, shook off the protective bandanna, and ambled into the brush. The next day, his uninitiated sister would repeat his mistake and find herself in the same snare. Her capture was more relaxed as the researchers were confident they'd caught a pair of weaned subadults. However, a week later, both collared bears were observed in a cutting unit with a much larger bear-their mother.

The timber harvest is afl but complete in this valley. Shell Oil is back home analyzing the data from its drilling and seismic tests. McLellan is now set to begin monitoring what the grizzlies do in the aftermath of a decade's disturbance. He expects the follow-up to take another three years at least.

But it's far more than a job now. He has not only earned a Ph.D. with the North Fork bears, he's honeymooned with them and had two children of his own. Bears are so much a part of his family's life that five-year-old Charlie McLellan thrills more at finding a frog along the trap line than a snared griz.

What scares McLellan most about the future is the threat of oil and gas development or the commencement of a proposed coal mine in this bear-rich valley. With either of those projects would come a permanent settlement. If they put a town in this valley," McLellan says, "there would be a lot of tough moments. Because grizzlies kill people once in a while, some people don't want them around. "

Even if off and gas companies don't find what they're looking for, and the coal mine never gets off the drawing board, people are still wont to chip away at the bear's habitat. And because the grizzly is not a threatened species in Canada, it has no special protection under the law. It's a classic pattern-and one that has brought the grizzly in the contiguous U.S. to the brink of extinction.

When people around the World think of Yellowstone, they think of bears. When they think bears, they think grizzlies. When they think grizzlies, they think of those twin, bruin-chasing biologist brothers, john and Frank Craighead. What ever happened to them, anyway?

As you may or may not recall, their detective work on the fat, sassy dump-feeding Yellowstone griz began in 1959. It ended in 1967, the year their subjects began making sandwiches of humans in sleeping bags. In 1968, the National Park Service ordered all park dumps closed. Officials reasoned that bears who ate human food eventually came to see humans themselves as food. The Craigheads, warning that the closures would decimate the grizzly population, left in a huff.

More than 100 of an estimated 200 to 300 bears died in the effort to return them to a natural diet-most from transgressions committed in the search for the human foods they had grown to know and love. It was not until 1987 that government scientists at last documented an increase in Yellowstone's grizzly population. The new generation of natural" bears was smaller in size and number, officials said, but only because of the ecosystem's dictates.

In the meantime, Frank Craighead got out of the bear business. But John Craighead continues to work on behalf of the Yellowstone grizzlies.

In fact, he has spent years developing a method to determine how many bears are the right number for Yellowstone, also known as its carrying capacity " His method uses multi-spectral imagery from LANDSAT satellites to figure how many grizzly foods are in a given area and, therefore, how many grizzlies can be sustained there.

"We feel that this will enable us to have a lot better idea of what a recovery figure should be-a reasonable one that could be obtained, " Craighead says.

He believes that to date there are not sufficient data to "indicate a bona-fide upward trend" in population.

Craighead, with his brother, created the first method for radio-tracking animals in the wild, for which they recently recieved a Centennial Award from the National Geographic Society John Craighead also has been developing a way to track bears with satellites, in order to determine habitat preference and use.

This effort ties in with his controversial theory of "ecocenters, " places like the famed NcNeil River in Alaska, where grizzlies congregate to fatten up on high-protein salmon.

Yellwstone's ecocenters were the large garbage dumps, " Craighead says. "You have to have a little bit different philosophy of what Yellowstone is and whether it can be self-regulating when 2112 million people come in every year. "

It's a complex problem, " Craighead says. "I'm not recommending anything to Yellowstone, and I don't intend to. But we are going to show the biological operation that occurs when bears aggregate at a large source of high protein. 7he others can "take their own conclusions, " Certainly this study will make good use of the data the Craigheads spent nine years collecting on the now-departed dumps.

Regarding the question of carrying capacity government officials wish Craighead well. Everyone would be as pleased as a grizzly with a full stomach to know for sure how many bears are enough bears for Yellowstone. For no74 it remains anybody's guess.
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Mills, J.A.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Previous Article:Yellowstone and the let-burn policy; the fires that hopscotched across half the Park last summer also fueled a debate that may change the way we...
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