Could grizzly bears return to the southern Sierra Nevada? | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Could grizzly bears return to the southern Sierra Nevada?

TRUCKEE, Calif. — It's the state animal and it's on the flag — the California grizzly bear. And while that specific species is now extinct, one conservation organization is calling for the return of the grizzly bear to the Golden State. This summer, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand the federal agency's recovery plan for grizzly bears, including returning them to their former stomping grounds across the West. "Grizzly bears are one of the true icons of the American West, yet today they live in a paltry 4 percent of the lands where they used to roam," Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "We shouldn't be closing the book on grizzly recovery, but beginning a new chapter — one where these amazing animals live wherever there's good habitat for them across the West." The petition, which calls for Fish and Wildlife to revise and update its 1993 grizzly bear recovery plan, identifies an additional 110,000 square miles of potential habitat in California's southern Sierra Nevada; the Mogollon Rim and Gila Wilderness complex in Arizona and New Mexico; the Grand Canyon; and Utah's Uinta Mountains. Today, 1,850 wild grizzly bears live in the United States, spread over four states — Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington, said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Center for Biological Diversity would like to see that number rise to at least 4,000 and up to 6,000 spread across habitat areas to ensure their long-term survival. Since 1975, the grizzly bear has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, which aims to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems on which they depend. "If we're serious about recovering grizzly bears, we need more populations around the West and more connections between them, so they don't fall prey to inbreeding and so they have a chance of adapting to a warming world," Greenwald said. "If we want these incredible bears around for centuries to come, we've still got a lot of work left to do." According to the petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pursued a fragmented approach to grizzly bear recovery that fails to meet the intention of the Endangered Species Act to recover species across significant portions of their historic range. Servheen said there are no additional resources to start new programs in new locations, since all available funding and personnel are dedicated to the service's current recovery work. "Any bears placed in new areas have to come from habitats with similar foods and habitats to maximize the probability of success," he said. "Many areas of historic range have no similar habitats with grizzlies in them today, (which) means there are not any bears to move into such former habitat areas." Historically, as many as 100,000 grizzly bears once lived in western North America. Yet, within 200 years of European settlement, the grizzly population dwindled to hundreds due to slaughter. While a California grizzly shot in 1922 in Tulare County is considered the last state grizzly, there were reports in 1924 of a sighting in what is now Sequoia National Park. Today, Greenwald said he thinks Californians would be open to the idea of reintroducing grizzly bears to the state, since it's "a wildlife-friendly state." Ann Bryant, executive director of the Lake Tahoe-based BEAR League, isn't so sure. "(People) can't even co-exist with black bears," she said. "How in the world do we think we can co-exist with grizzlies? There's just no room, no mentality for it." Grizzlies have a reputation of being aggressive and territorial, especially females when cubs are involved. Documented grizzly attacks on humans have occurred over the past several decades, some resulting in death. "The chances of getting mauled by a grizzly bear is (very small)," Greenwald said. "It is much more dangerous to drive your car to the store." The petition identifies 7,747 square miles of wilderness in the southern Sierra remote enough to support the omnivorous bruin. As for whether the region would have enough food supply to support the bear, additional study is needed, Greenwald said. The diet of grizzly bears consists of nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, roots and animals. Males can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, and the bears are considered apex predators, with humans being their biggest threat. Human tolerance is key for this idea to work, Bryant said. "You've got to have a willing reception of that thing, and we're not ready for that," she said. "The mentality here right now is fear-based. Grizzlies probably invoke the most amount of fear. … We've got a long way to go before this is anything I would take seriously." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is legally required to respond to the petition. Greenwald said the Center for Biological Diversity has yet to hear back from the service since filing the petition in June.

Colorado wildlife officers investigate report of grizzly

DENVER (AP) – State wildlife officers are checking into the reported sighting of a grizzly bear – a creature considered long gone from Colorado. Colorado Division of Wildlife officers have searched the site where two hunters reported seeing a grizzly bear and two cubs Sept. 20. The hunters said they saw the bears in the San Isabel National Forest near Independence Pass, southeast of Aspen. Wildlife officers took a photographer with them on a flight over the area in central Colorado Thursday to look for any signs of the bears, including tracks in the snow, DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield said. Colorado has many black bears, but a grizzly hasn’t been seen in the state since 1979 when an outfitter was attacked by a female grizzly in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. The outfitter survived but the bear was killed. Before that, the last grizzly seen in the state was trapped in 1952 in the San Juan Mountains. There have been periodic reports of sightings and speculation that a small population of grizzlies could have survived undetected in the wilds of southwest Colorado. No evidence has been found. Grizzlies, which are larger than the more common black bear, are found in pockets of the Northern Rockies, principally in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grizzly as a threatened species in the lower 48 states in 1975. Baskfield said the majority of black bears in Colorado are light in color, making it easier for people without much experience to confuse them with grizzlies. “In this particular case, the two reporting parties had a good background with black bears and grizzly bears,” Baskfield said. Grizzlies have dish-shaped faces and a shoulder hump. Black bears have elongated snouts and no hump.

National forests plan for grizzly delisting

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) – Six national forests in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho will change their management plans to support removing grizzly bears from the endangered species list, U.S. Forest Service officials say. The agency is amending resource management plans for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Bridger-Teton, Caribou-Targhee, Custer, Gallatin and Shoshone national forests, intermountain regional forester Jack Troyer said. The amendments will take effect starting in May. Troyer said the six forests would follow a conservation strategy outlining the habitat standards, guidelines and monitoring that are important for sustaining a recovered grizzly bear population within the primary conservation area of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Forest plans would emphasize storing food properly, monitoring critical food sources, reducing conflicts with livestock grazing, holding numbers and capacity of developed sites at 1998 levels inside the primary conservation area, and maintaining current road and motorized trail miles inside the primary conservation area. Troyer said the decision to change the plans was made with supervisors in each of the six forests. The amendments, he said, will adequately address public concerns over protection of the bear, road standards, development and social and economic issues. “We have been involved in the conservation effort for decades, and now the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone ecosystem not only survives, it thrives,” Troyer said. “We are extremely pleased with the progress that has been made, and we are optimistic that the population will continue to flourish.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last month it was removing grizzly bears from protection under the Endangered Species Act by the end of April. The decision comes after more than 30 years of protection, during which the grizzly bear population increased from between 136 and 312 animals to more than 500 today. The Fish and Wildlife Service started the delisting process for grizzlies in November 2005. The states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, will manage grizzly bears in a cooperative effort that officials expect to cost about $3.7 million a year. Conservation groups say grizzly bears remain imperiled in the northern Rockies because of inadequate habitat protection in national forests and the potential decline of their most important food source, whitebark pine nuts. Scientists also have said that the Yellowstone area’s grizzly bear population might not be genetically diverse enough to survive threats such as disease and global climate change.

Ridge not to blame for bear’s death

Duane Petite thinks The Ridge Tahoe has gotten a bad wrap for the Nov. 5 killing of a mother bear in the Kingsbury area. Petite, assistant resort manager, said The Ridge Tahoe did not call to complain about the bear – as has been believed – and resort officials feel saddened about the death much like the residents who have angrily called the resort. “I don’t think there’s another place in the area that’s done more to address the problems caused by bear-human relationships,” Petite said. “Every single trash bin at The Ridge Tahoe is secure against bears and has been for ages. I am confident in saying every one of our trash bins is totally secure.” The Nevada Division of Wildlife killed a mother bear nearly two weeks ago. Officials had said complaints came from The Ridge Tahoe. However, with several similarly named resorts in the area, Petite said there was a mistake. “I think there was just a natural confusion of names,” he said. “People often get the different resorts intertwined and confused.” Petite said all of The Ridge Tahoe’s bins are contained inside buildings where bears can’t get to them. Additionally, any outside trash containers are emptied frequently to avoid spreading odors that might attract bears. Security guards are on duty at all times and respond to every bear sighting. Depending on the situation, if bears are attempting to break into a place where they shouldn’t be, the security officers can scare the bears away with pepper spray and a loud bullhorn. All residents also are provided with information on bears, instructing them not to feed them and keep garbage contained. The Nevada Division of Wildlife responds to bear complaints by using an aversion technique. The bears typically are captured and tranquilized. When they are released, officials spray them with pepper spray and shoot them with a harmless explosive ball, which makes a loud noise. The reasoning is to make the bear have a bad human experience and to help it stay wild. The Nevada Division of Wildlife said it unsuccessfully tried the aversion technique twice on the bear killed Nov. 5 before officials put it down. Wildlife – bears, raccoons, deer and likely even mountain lions – roam the 10 acres of land of the 302-unit Ridge Tahoe condominium complex, and Petite said educating the guests of the private vacation ownership resort about them is its policy. The Board of Douglas County Commissioners last week decided to adopt a policy of educating residents about bears, and Petite said he supports that action. Petite also said he hopes the recent bear killing helps educate residents and tourists on the importance of keeping trash away from bears. “I, personally, was saddened by the death of the bear, upset by the people whose actions ultimately caused it,” he said. “But if, because of this, people learn to act differently, maybe it won’t have been in vain.” Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com Visitors Guide | News | Diversions | Marketplace | Weather | Community Copyright, tahoe.com. Materials contained within this site may not be used without permission. About tahoe.com…

Daily Download: Man mauled by grizzly had no time for pepper spray

LIVINGSTON, Mont. (AP) – A nature photographer mauled last week by a sow grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park had no time to use pepper spray against the animal, a friend said Sunday. Jim Cole “does remember trying to grab his bear spray,” Michael Sanders said. “He said that that he assumed that he startled the bear and the bear startled him.” Sanders’ remarks about Cole’s experience came in a telephone interview shortly after he met with reporters here as Cole remained in Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls. He was flown there after the attack, underwent surgery Thursday and was in serious condition Sunday. Work included reinserting his left eye, knocked out by the bear, Sanders said. Park officials have said Cole, 57, of Bozeman, was photographing bears Wednesday in prime grizzly habitat within Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley. He was hiking alone, off a trail, and was two or three miles from a road when the female bear with a single cub attacked, the officials said. Sanders, who described his friendship with Cole as spanning more than 20 years, said he receive information from another Cole friend, Rich Berman, who has been at the Idaho Falls hospital. Cole began talking on Saturday, Sanders said. “He does remember topping a ridge in Hayden Valley, near the Trout Creek area,” Sanders said. He said Cole reported that the bear “came out of nowhere.” The bear struck Cole in the face and besides knocking out the left eye, the animal seriously damaged facial bones and skin, Sanders said. “His recollection was that the bear hit him like putty,” he said. Sanders said Cole reported that he was not photographing the bear before the attack. He may have been photographing other bears in the area, Sanders said. The mauling Wednesday was the second time Cole has been attacked by a grizzly. In 1993, he surprised a young bear in Montana’s Glacier National Park. That bear tore a hole in Cole’s scalp and broke his wrist before a friend used pepper spray. Cole wrote about the experience in his 2004 book, “Lives of Grizzlies: Montana and Wyoming.” “I figured this was as traumatic an experience for the young bruin as it was for me,” he wrote. Cole has written and taken photos for two books about grizzly bears. In his writing, he has advocated photographing Yellowstone bears from the safety of a road, but also said he has hiked thousands of miles in grizzly country. “I want to document natural grizzly behavior, not bears reacting to humans,” Cole wrote in 2004. “All the same, as careful as I try to be, I certainly have made my share of mistakes.”

Conservationists: Yellowstone grizzlies need protection

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Conservation groups on Tuesday challenged the federal government’s plan to remove Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from protection under the Endangered Species Act. In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the removal of the grizzlies from the list of “threatened” animals effective April 30, capping what officials described as a successful three-decade effort to recover the animal from near-extinction. The change would remove some federal protections and open the door to future public hunting of grizzlies for the first time in decades. On Tuesday, eight groups notified USFWS that they intend to file a lawsuit in 60 days if the delisting is not reversed. The groups argue the 500 bears now living in and around Yellowstone National Park are too few to guarantee long-term survival of the population in the face of global warming, habitat loss and other pressures. “There is no shortage of things wrong with this,” said Bozeman, Mont., attorney Douglas Honnold with Earthjustice, which is representing the groups. Honnold pointed to a recent decline in whitebark pine trees – a staple of the grizzly’s pre-hibernation diet: “With global warming influencing bark beetles that kill white bark pine trees, we face a future where every year is a bad year for whitebark pine, and the consequence is every year is a declining year for Yellowstone grizzlies,” he said. USFWS regional director Mitch King said he had not yet seen the conservation groups’ notice, but defended his agency’s action as appropriate. “I don’t think the world’s perfect, but we’ve done just about everything humanly possible to make sure grizzly bear populations remain stable in and around Yellowstone,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good (recovery) package and I think we can defend it in court.” King said USFWS would continue monitoring grizzly bears in cooperation with state agencies. The agency’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator, Chris Servheen, said $3.7 million annually will be spent on the program, a $1.1 million increase from current spending. Four other groups of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states would retain their “threatened” status under the government’s proposal. As many as 50,000 grizzlies, which can reach 600 pounds and up to 8 feet tall when standing on their hind legs, once ranged the western half of the United States. After European settlers arrived, the animals were routinely shot, poisoned and trapped until they were reduced to less than 2 percent of their historic range, according to the USFWS. An estimated 136 to 312 bears remained in the Yellowstone area when they were listed as threatened in 1975. The conservation groups filing the notice of intent to sue the USFWS Tuesday were the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Humane Society of the United States, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watershed Project, Great Bear Foundation and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

To tame the black bear, we must become grizzlies

Is everyone as ready as I am for the bears to take a nap? This past season has been the most difficult and exasperating since the BEAR League was founded over six years ago. We had more bears going into homes (and cars) in more neighborhoods than ever before (Note: Every single bear who entered a home was eventually verified as having been fed or made welcome at that or someone else’s house). It was falsely argued that by recommending bear-proof garbage enclosures we had created a monster. It was said that the bears began to starve to death and had no other option but to go inside and raid refrigerators. Think about it now, how many skinny bears have you seen around Tahoe? It’s quite the opposite; our bears far outweigh black bears from any other area in North America. They are not starving. So why are they entering houses so boldly, almost as though they feel they have the right to do so? Because they have been made to feel welcome. I don’t mean we all necessarily stood at the open door and said, “Come on in, Bear. Follow me to the kitchen.” No, we weren’t quite so obvious, but to the bears what we did, and continue to do, made exactly the same statement. We have tamed the bears. We have allowed them to feel completely at home wandering around our yards, sitting on our decks, peering into our windows, eating our birdseed and pet food, and going in and out of our garages. So why should they think they don’t belong in our homes? Let’s quick take a look back into the past in order to understand how these bears came to the above conclusions. When the European people first came to populate the West there were grizzly bears living in this whole area, far outnumbering the elusive black bears. The grizzly was the ‘King of the Jungle’ so to speak. Next in the pecking order were the Indians and finally, the meek and submissive black bear. The first step to ‘House Bears’ was the killing of all the grizzlies. Our second step to refrigerator-raiding bears was to obliterate the ideologies of the Indians who had lived comfortably with and understood the black bears for millennia. The Washoe people shared the abundance of the forest with the bears. They understood that the black bears would not hurt them and ‘spoke’ to them about respecting the boundaries where the Indians had their summer settlements. The third step towards taming our bears (and this is the one we, ourselves, have to take full ownership of) started when we changed the rules and no longer expected them to respect our boundaries. Remember when just 10 years ago, it was rare to see a bear? And certainly never in broad daylight. Then slowly they began to appear more and more and some people thought that meant there were more of them. There aren’t, they just aren’t hiding from us anymore. These past few years our actions have made a loud and clear announcement to the bears “You are welcome here. You don’t need to be afraid of us, we won’t hurt you.” We positively cannot do this anymore! We have to act like dominant grizzly bears. The black bears evolved expecting something/someone to hold this position. Since everything and everybody who did so is gone, thanks to us, we now have to do it. We absolutely must tell our bears that we are a mean, grouchy, ornery species and we do not share our dens (houses) or our home territory (yards) with anyone, especially them. We can no longer talk baby-talk to them when we see them on our decks. Everyone has to yell and screech as obnoxiously as you can when a bear comes near your house. No one can put any food out that they can get, absolutely nothing. We all have to keep our windows and doors protected while we are away from the house and get advice on how to discourage them from wanting to enter. We have to stop running and hiding under the bed when a bear stands at our front door trying to get in. Rather, we have to pound hard on the door and growl and yell as loud as we can and as soon as he turns to run we then open the door and throw a rock right at his fat retreating rear end. Call the BEAR League for coaching on how to be the dominant animal on your property. We all have to step into the empty shoes (paws?) of the grizzly bear. Our black bears will understand and soon will behave accordingly. It takes all of us, all the time. Please help us teach our bears the rules. We can be reached at (530) 525-PAWS (7297) or at bearsnsquirrels@sbcglobal.net. – Ann Bryant is executive director for the Homewood-based BEAR League.

Tahoe Grizzlies to conclude home schedule

The Tahoe Grizzlies squirt (ages 9 and 10) and midgets (18 and under) youth ice hockey teams will play their final home games this weekend at the South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena. The Grizzlies’ squirt club is fighting for a playoff berth and will square off against the Oakland Bears on Saturday at 4 p.m., immediately followed at 5:45 p.m. by the Grizzlies’ midgets home finale against the Santa Rosa Flyers. On Sunday at 8:15 a.m., the Grizzlies’ squirts and Bears meet again. Their match will be followed at 10 a.m. by the Grizzlies’ midgets concluding their home-and-home series against the Flyers. Admission is free.

Rare hybrid bear coming to Reno hunting show

GLENNS FERRY, Idaho (AP) – Jim Martell has been hunting since age 8 and has dozens of trophies, including two 10-foot-tall brown bears from Russia, a wallaby from New Zealand and two ibexes from Kyrgyzstan. But his most exotic yet is the world’s only recorded incidence of a wild polar bear-grizzly crossbreed. Martell, 66, shot the hybrid that scientists have dubbed a “pizzly” this spring, sending shockwaves through the scientific community. The now-stuffed bear took its place in his trophy room this month, a few feet away from a Canadian wolf. He plans to have friends and people in town over to celebrate the big kill with a bear party in the next few weeks. “It is just a beautiful animal,” said Martell, who owns a telephone company out of Glenns Ferry, and operates a Salmon, Idaho-based elk ranch. “When we first got up to it, my guide said to me, ‘you have a million dollar bear.” The pizzly – Martell prefers “polar grizz” – can’t actually be legally sold. But Martell has already received requests from museums that want to display the animal, and had calls from scientists asking him to describe the characteristics of the unusual creature. From a distance, the animal looks like a slightly dirty polar bear. But up close, dark rings around its eyes, a hump on its back, long brown claws and an indented face are giveaways to its unique heritage. DNA tests in April showed the bear’s mother was a polar bear and its father was a grizzly. The bear has the small head and neck of a polar bear – they come in handy when going after seals through holes in the ice – but at about 7.5 feet long, it’s closer in size to a grizzly than a polar, which can grow up to 11 feet. The bear caused a stir in biological circles after Martell shot it on a 14-day, $45,450 hunt on Banks Island in northern Canada earlier this year. Polar bears and grizzly bears have been successfully mated in the past, but only in zoos; both bears’ breeding habits have them mating several times before the female can become fertile, which means the two bears would have had to get along for about a week in the wild together, said Ian Stirling, a biologist who specializes in polar bears with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton, Alberta. “It’s obviously not a case of – to use a very crude term – a one-night-stand,” Stirling said. “They’ve had to interact socially and very intensely socially for a very extended period of time. That’s what makes this so surprising: they obviously look different, you’d think they’d recognize that they were dealing with a different kind of animal.” Martell nearly missed the bear that rocked the scientific world this spring: his guide spotted the polar bear-grizzly cross walking on a ridge above the ocean, about 300 yards away. Martell had just one shot. Then he completely missed the flurry of scientific excitement that surrounded his prize: he was back up in Northern Canada on another hunting expedition, this time to nab a full-blooded grizzly. “I called my wife and she said, ‘How is my famous husband?’” he said. “I missed it all.” He got back just in time for the infamy. The pizzly discovery was prime blog fodder, and many were less interested in the bear than the man who shot it. Anti-hunting activists and environmentalists jumped on Martell for killing what, for now, seems to be a one-of-a-kind animal. “We should have him mounted. Jim that is,” one comment read. One Web site devoted to the bear, http://www.savethepizzly.com, lamented: “Why is the rare, never-seen bear OK to kill?” “I just got piled on: phone calls, letters,” he said “A lady from Missoula sent me an e-mail, saying, ‘I’d like to put you in a barrel, with a bear and no gun.’” But Martell says the comments haven’t bothered him. Had he not shot the bear, no one would have known pizzlies – or grolar bears, if you prefer – could exist in the wild. “If he’d-a just went and died, they wouldn’t have known it could happen,” he said. “It’s actually helped biologists.” He also has his own theories about why his bear might not be one-of-a-kind for long. Polar bears evolved from brown bears like grizzlies, and are still very closely related – their offspring, like Martell’s bear, are fertile. Martell believes polar grizzes like his could be the next evolutionary step for the bears – perhaps a response to global warming and their shrinking habitats. Grizzly bears are already listed as a threatened species, and the Bush administration proposed giving polar bears “threatened” status last month. Meanwhile, Martell’s next step is to take his trophy to the Safari Club hunting show in Reno this week – he has a booth for his elk ranch there, and he thinks his famous bear will help draw people in. After that, he says, it’s staying in his trophy room until it goes to his oldest grandson. On the Net: Save The Pizzly: http://www.savethepizzly.com If you go Who: Safari Club International What: 35th Annual Hunters Convention When: January 24 – 27 Where: The Reno/Sparks Convention Center Web: http://www.SafariClub.com

Tahoe Grizzlies bantams win title at Lake Tahoe Invitational

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — On home ice, the Tahoe Grizzlies bantam hockey team delivered a championship. The Grizzlies won the Bantam B Division championship at the 10th-annual Lake Tahoe Invitational tournament, defeating the Oakland Bears 5-2 in the title game Monday at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena. In the championship game, the Grizzlies rallied from an early deficit to beat Oakland for the second time in three days. After the Bears opened the scoring, Jackson Oleson made it 1-1 in the last minute of the first period off an assist from Jaxon Kennedy — the first of a title-game hat trick. Oleson completed his hat trick in the second period sandwiched around a goal from Tucker Cannon. The Grizzlies took a 4-1 lead into the third period — Mickey Sullivan added a late goal to seal the victory. The Grizzlies finished atop their division with three wins in round robin play. They beat the Tri Valley Blue Devils 14-0 on Friday, downed Oakland 6-3 on Saturday and defeated the Capital Thunder 8-6 on Sunday.