Searching for the North Cascades grizzly bears

August 1, 2016 Alaina Kowitz

By Aleah Jaeger, Citizen Science Monitoring Project Coordinator

Conservation Northwest began monitoring for grizzly bears in the North Cascades decades ago, placing film cameras out in grizzly habitat and hooking them up to sensors. 

This effort was less standardized than our current Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project, but the ultimate goal was the same: to document grizzlies in the North Cascades. And in so doing, to add momentum to plans for grizzly bear restoration. 

The Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project (CWMP) has been formally sending volunteers into the North Cascades of both Washington and British Columbia in search of grizzly bears since 2008. By 2008, the remote cameras being deployed were digital, easier to use, and more efficient, much to the joy of everyone involved in the project. 

Protocol for grizzly bear monitoring has varied slightly from year to year, and beginning in 2014, CWMP began to work in coordination with the Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project (CCCP).  

Working closely with biologists who lead the CCCP since 2014, our CWMP now follows strict protocol when determining where and how to set up grizzly monitoring sites. Teams of volunteers are assigned to survey hexagons specified in the CCCP protocol, many located in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Washington. 

Installing and checking grizzly monitoring sites requires an overnight backpacking trip, bushwhacking, strenuous hiking, excellent navigational skills, and very stinky scent attractant (“grizzly goo”, a mixture of fermented cow blood and dead fish). 

Teams scout extensively to find the perfect location for their monitoring site, construct a pile of woody debris, pour the scent attractant over it, and set a camera aimed to capture photos of curious bears as they come to investigate.   

In 2016, we are sending two teams of volunteers into some of the most isolated terrain in the North Cascades. Snow has prevented our teams from installing their cameras this early in the season, but they have plans to head out in early July. Each team will set up its camera monitoring site, check the images on the camera after a month, uninstall the monitoring site, and install a new site in their second designated hexagon.   

We are thrilled to begin yet another season monitoring for grizzly bears in the North Cascades. And we’re hopeful that someday soon our volunteers will document one of the last “ghost bears” of this wild place! 

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