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Grizzly Bears: Their Surprising Help From Detection Dogs

Jan 15, 2016 12:30 PM EST
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Detection Dog
Using detection dogs -- one of which is pictured here, researchers have located areas within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that may be suitable for grizzly bear habitats.
(Photo : Julie Larsen Maher)

The use of "detection dogs" may help researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) locate suitable habitats for bears living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). This non-invasive technique could play a key role in furthering the recovery of endemic grizzly bears.

"The use of detection dogs allowed us to quantify and map key areas of habitat for black bears in the Centennial Mountains located along the Idaho-Montana border west of Yellowstone National Park," Jon Beckmann, WCS scientist and lead author of the study, said in a news release. "Black bears are a proxy species useful for predicting likely grizzly bear habitat. With recovery, a larger grizzly bear population needs room to roam and to reconnect with other populations. The Centennial Mountains region of the U.S. Northern Rockies can provide room and safe linkages -- critical to connecting the bear population in the GYE area to others further north and west."

Within a 965 square-mile study area, two Labrador retrievers and two German shepherds, owned and trained by Working Dogs for Conservation, located 616 black bear and 24 grizzly bear fecal samples -- which were later identified by DNA analyses. The location of each sample was inputted into the researcher's scientific model, revealing valuable bear habitat parameters.

"We recognize that black bears do not always utilize the landscape in precisely the same manner as grizzly bears," Beckmann added. "But given the paucity of grizzly bears in the study area -- especially during the years of our study -- our approach, data, and model have value to grizzly bear conservation and management. This is especially true given that black bears and grizzly bears in the GYE are known to utilize very similar habitats spatially, but at different times."

In general, researchers found bears used habitats that were farther from roads, not privately owned and of lower elevation. Knowing this, conservationists can plan out bear habitat management decisions more effectively. Their study, recently published in the Western North American Naturalist, also informs people of bear whereabouts, so that human-bear conflicts can be avoided.

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