Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! by Seattle

Seattle is having a tough day, computer-wise. Blogger wouldn’t let him log into his account for some reason, and then his computer crashed. So I’m posting this for him, one of the many small duties of a edituh. Let us pray his troubles are temporary….

OK, so there aren’t any tigers in the Pacific Northwest, but there are plenty of lions and bears. And apparently they live closer to us than we realize.

Most people know that when suburban sprawl meets a semi-wild area, encounters between humans and wildlife go up. The standard explanation is that we’re entering their territory and although that’s true, it’s only part of the story. The flip side is that when wild animals learn about the benefits that come from living in close proximity to humans – basically food – they move closer.

In a recent study, grizzly bears in Montana were tagged with GPS collars that make hourly recordings of the bears’ locations. After a year the researcher retrieves the collars, downloads the bears’ last year of travels, and collars another group of helpful bears:

For a long time, the daily movements of grizzlies were shrouded in mystery. Known to biologists as Ursus arctos horribilis, grizzlies are notoriously difficult to track by day and nearly impossible to follow at night. Mr. Servheen’s bear-tracking maps are changing that. They have already yielded one surprising tidbit: America’s largest, smartest predators may be closer than many people think.For years, retired forester Bud Moore, along with many of the other 900 residents of the lush Swan Valley, believed that grizzly bears spent spring and fall in the valley and summers up in the mountains eating huckleberries. Then he saw the maps showing that the bears while away the summers in the valley, bedding down near humans.

One female grizzly spent the last couple of summers nestling in the woods just behind Mr. Moore’s house. That might upset some people, but not him. “For me, living anywhere else is just kind of a watered-down experience,” says Mr. Moore, 86 years old. “Those bears are big enough to keep your adrenaline up. You are just a little more alive than you would be.”

Over the past decade, this area’s human population has increased 20%. To Mr. Servheen, the bear-tracking maps suggest that grizzlies are responding by doing what deer, coyotes, wolves, cougars and the smaller, less dangerous black bears do where human habitation and nature converge. They are learning to live among people while keeping a lower profile. Increasingly, grizzlies are doing most of their feeding and socializing at night.

David Baron has written a book describing the same phenomenon with mountain lions in California and Colorado. Many of these lions live almost in people’s back yards.

It’s a nice phenomenon in many ways, but of course it can lead to problems – like dying. My step brother worries about his two young children after seeing lions (bears too, but just black bears) very near his house in rural Oregon.

This topic is on my mind after hearing a local radio show. You can listen to it on line.

OK, enough writing. I’m off to transfer my canister of bear spray from my wilderness backpack to our back porch.

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