Montana grizzly bears, Montana grizzly bear
The Daily Chronicle, Deirdre Eitel/AP

Montana’s Grizzly Bear Research Project a Success

September 18, 2008 06:58 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
The grizzly bear population in Montana has grown, according to the results of a controversial study, which researchers say was successful and necessary, despite criticism.

Montana Grizzlies Restored

In Montana, a five year, $4.8 million study of grizzly bear DNA has finally paid off despite criticism from some opponents, including Republican presidential candidate John McCain, reports the Associated Press.

The study, conducted by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey, featured “the first-ever scientific census” of the grizzly population. Results estimated 765 bears in northwestern Montana, the highest number in more than 30 years and an indication that the bears could be bouncing back. Previous estimates of the grizzly population in the area were only 250–300.

According to AP, Montana ranchers, farmers and Republican leaders supported the study in hopes that it would allow grizzlies to be removed from the endangered species list, which could lift restrictions on “oil and gas drilling, logging and other development.”

Known for his opposition to reckless government spending, McCain joked that studying grizzly DNA was “a waste of money.” However, according to a McCain aide, the senator does not find fault with “the merits of (environmental) projects,” but rather, he opposes the way in which unauthorized funding “is slipped into bills.”

Katherine Kendall, a key player on the Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project said the DNA was used “primarily as a bear-identifying tool,” in conjunction with other techniques to count them. According to The Washington Post, Kendall felt the project was “a scientific and logistical triumph.” McCain ended up voting for the grizzly project.

“There’s never been any information about the status of this population. We didn’t know what was going on—until this study,” said Kendall.

Background: Importance of grizzly research

In July 2005, Kendall talked to Montana Outdoors about the potential impacts of the grizzly research, and why it was necessary. The article explained, “wildlife managers can’t effectively protect, control, restore, or otherwise manage grizzly bears or other wildlife population unless they first know how many animals exist and whether the population is increasing or decreasing.”

At that point, grizzly population management was based on rough estimates, but a more accurate assessment would help wildlife workers establish whether the area’s grizzly population would be capable of sustaining the level of human-caused mortality, such as train and car collision. In addition, researchers hoped to learn how many grizzlies could be moved to another area for augmentation purposes.

Related Topic: More grizzly projects

As part of a grizzly bear augmentation project in Montana’s Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, bear management specialists moved a young female grizzly from the Whitefish Range to the Cabinet Mountains in August 2008. Four bears have been relocated to the Cabinet Range in the past four years, thanks to the project, according to Montana’s official state Web site.

Another grizzly study is also underway. The U.S. Geological Survey is funding three studies focused on global warming’s impact on animal habitat in the Rocky Mountains, including Grizzly dens.

Opinion & Analysis: McCain and the grizzlies


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