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Officials collect data on grizzlies

by Brandon RobertsWestern News
| February 2, 2009 11:00 PM

In the wilds of western Montana, the grizzly bear provides a mystique that instills caution and even fear into those who venture out. Learning more about the majestic animals is on the minds of wildlife officials.

In a meeting last Wednesday with the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and a nonprofit organization presented findings from a 2007 phone survey conducted in communities in and around the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.

Wayne Kasworm of the FWS said the public knowledge and opinion survey indicated a general support for the griz recovery efforts in the ecosystem.

The survey of 502 individuals was to “measure the understanding and attitudes,” said Sarah Canepa of the Vital Ground Foundation. She said the goal of the survey is to develop an outreach program to increase understanding, not advocacy, of the griz.

“What about the human dimension?” questioned Canepa. “This is a starting point on talking about griz.”

Nearly 60 percent questioned were in opposition to further road closures and 33 percent said their income was forest-related. However, 71 percent had some level of agreement that the griz should be in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.

Of those surveyed, 95 percent consider themselves full-time Montana residents, though Kasworm admitted the numbers did not indicate whether they resided in Montana for one week, one year, or were generational.

Canepa said the survey was conducted during the summer to obtain a broad sample of those who recreate and to find out what people know about griz during their active season. 

Commissioner Tony Berget asked why a social opinion survey was conducted versus a biological survey like hair sampling.

Funding was the response from Kasworm, who said hair sampling would be very difficult in the region and would cost upwards of $4 million.

The 2008 estimate for the ecosystem is a minimum of 40 griz – 24 in the Yaak and 16 in the Cabinets. Kasworm said the goal is 100 for a “sustainable level to maintain a population without human intervention.” However, he said attaining that goal would take augmentation.

“We know only a minimum,” said Kim Annis, Montana bear management specialist. “Sure there are more bears out there, but we can’t be sure.”

Canepa noted that there is high support of bear recovery in the ecosystem without population augmentation. Kasworm added that public support fell when the 100-griz goal was mentioned.

“The truth is, we don’t know what is out there,” said Commissioner John Konzen, adding that conversations with county constituents often differ from the survey findings and that some of the statistics presented were “unfair.”