Fish and Game researchers expect to collar 15 grizzlies this summer – Idaho State Journal

After 14 years of studying, capturing, collaring and cataloging bears across the continent, Jeremy Nicholson says theres still an awe factor about grizzly bears.

Nicholson, a bear biologist for Idaho Department of Fish and Game, is preparing his summers work of researching grizzly bears in the Island Park area. In the next few weeks, he will be putting out 25 to 30 signs in places they hope to capture and collar grizzly bears. Bright orange warning signs tell people to stay away for their safety.

The research team will set up four to five large metal traps and a similar number of bait sites with motion sensor cameras to determine where the critters are at. He expects sites will get moved around as they home in on the bears.

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The traps and bait sites have smelly attractants and bait to lure bears in. Large metal cage traps hold the bears until the animals can be sedated, collared, tagged and given a health checkup. The team captures about 15 to 17 different grizzly bears during the summer season.

Some bears have learned to avoid the metal traps, having learned from past experience that the bait is not worth the hassle.

We definitely see bears that we never capture, Nicholson said. Some we dont catch because they avoid the traps. We have to be a little smarter than the average bear and come up with different ways to attract them.

The research team plans to focus its efforts west of U.S. Highway 20 along the Centennial Mountain Range and in the Cave Falls and Teton areas near the Wyoming border setting up traps starting July 1. The project wraps up at the end of August before hunting season gets underway.

Nicholson said he started studying black bears in the southeast at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then came west to work with bear biologists in Yellowstone National Park, before landing with Fish and Game in Island Park.

Its the awe factor that gets me with grizzlies, he said. Their big shoulder hump and size. Its a different animal than black bears. It sounds like a dragon is in the trap.

The Fish and Game biologists particularly want to radio collar female grizzlies.

By observing radio-collared females, we are able to document age of first reproduction, average litter size, cub and yearling survival, and how often females produce a litter, Nicholson said. Data collected from both sexes allow us to estimate survival among different sex and age classes, causes of mortality, and gain a better understanding of habitat use and food habits.

Collars and tags dont last forever.

They generally last about two years on sows, but male bears are rough on them. We might only get a year on them, he said. They get in fights with other bears and rub on trees.

He said it has been fun following the history of some of the bears who live in eastern Idaho and following them from subadults to changing over time into adults having their own babies or just making their way in the world.

Nicholson said the bear population has grown over the past 20 years in eastern Idaho and what was once bears from Montana and Yellowstone passing through, we now have more resident bears.

He said he has heard the complaint that there are too many bears, but said despite more bears and more people, the key is learning to avoid conflicts.

The main mortality with bears is from conflicts with humans, he said.

When bears get into trouble it is usually because they were attracted to things left out by people, he said.

Nicholson said a grizzly sow and cub that were getting into trash in the Yale-Kilgore area of Island Park last week was captured and dropped off in the Cave Falls area in hopes they would stay out of trouble.

Its not a silver bullet, he said of transferring troublesome bears to a new location. But it can work. We had a 5-year-old bear getting into trouble that we moved and we captured it later in good health at age 16 and it was doing fine. We knew it was the same bear from its tag.

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Fish and Game researchers expect to collar 15 grizzlies this summer - Idaho State Journal

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