Grizzly Bear Research: Field Diary 2015

Working with United States Fish and Wildlife Service in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem – one of six grizzly bear recovery zones in the lower 48 states.   Identifying individual grizzly bears within the total population (approximately 45 bears) using non-invasive methods: collecting hair samples (arising from natural bear behaviour), to enable identification of individuals through genetic analysis.  Bears rub against trees so we go collect the hair from those on a 2 week cycle.  We also build hair corrals – barbed wire rings around a group of trees – within which is a pile of wood soaked in blood – attracting the bears across the wire so they leave hair behind.  Hair samples are sent to a lab in Nelson, Canada for DNA analysis to identify every single individual bear.

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Hair capture corral – a ring of barbed wire around a few trees;  a lure pile, centre, covered in stinky blood lure.
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A nice chunk of possible grizz hair

 


Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Monitoring and Research – Field Diary 2015

Featuring bear hair collection activities conducted in the Yaak River Drainage and Cabinet Mountains of North West Montana.

“Here is my field diary from 2015.   You can see how much hiking was required, to achieve the hair samples.   There are also records of all major critter sign (scats and tracks) and then mentions of large mammal sightings – which are relatively few – they tend to run away at the sound of human beings.  Also notes of various adventures and fun escapades along the way. “

9th May Hellroaring Creek
7 miles.  Weather hot, sun, clear blue sky.  Bear scats and prints.  Wolf scats, more than 1 month old.  Very old bear hair on trees

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10th May Independence Mountain
6 miles 1200 feet ascent.  Warm sun and cool cloud.  Bear hair on trees.  Female deer skull

13th May Hellroaring Creek
8 miles 1000 feet ascent.  Rainy.

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14th May North Fork Meadow Creek
4.5 miles 1200 feet ascent.  Cloudy.  1 bear scat.  1 wolf scat,  fresh and juicy

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15th May Burnt Creek, Garver Mountain Trail, Pete Creek
10.5 miles 1000 feet ascent.  Sunny, cloudy, warm.  Mountain lion scat

16th May Spread Creek
3 miles 600 feet ascent.  Sunny.  2 wild turkeys

17th May Mount Tom, Quartz Creek, Flagstaff Mountain
8 miles 1600 feet ascent.  Cloudy, warm.  Turned back at higher elevations because of snow

18th May Caribou Mountain
8 miles 1900 feet ascent.  Sunny, hot

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19th May Saddle Mountain
9 miles 2900 feet ascent.  Hot, sunny.     At Kilbrennan Lake – 4 bear scats.  By accident, reversed truck and it slipped off road, nearly rolling

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20th May Red Top, Callahan, South Side and Roberts Mountain
10 miles 3800 feet ascent.  Hot, sunny.  Bear scat.  Turned back by snow, with grizz tracks back and forth

21st May Spar Lake Trails
6 miles 2400 feet ascent.   Hot, sunny.

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This trip also included the frightening Whoopee Creek road, with its sheer drop off

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22nd May Spruce Lakes
11 miles 500 feet ascent.   Hot, sunny.  1 black bear.  18  bear scats.  3 wolf scats

23rd May Upper Ford, Long Meadows, Vinal Creek, Solo Joe road
7 miles 300 feet ascent.  Hot, sunny.  Back home at Upper Ford where I lived in 2012!!  In the kitchen I spy the dirty cooking pan of chicken stew left by Tor Bertin, still not been washed up….

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24th May Skyline Trail and Kootenai Mountain
9 miles 1700 feet ascent.  Turned back off Kootenai Mountain because of snow.  Some beautiful deer

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Bushwacks taking their toll

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25th May La Foe, Look Out, Blue Lake
Driving day.  Rainy, cloudy

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26th May Buck Mountain, Iron Mountain
10 miles 3100 feet ascent.  Hot.  Wolf scats.  1 bear scat.    On roadside, 1 black bear gutpile left by hunters.

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27th May Deer Creek, Idaho
5.5 miles 700 feet.  Warm.  Grizzly bear sow + cub.  Sow bluff charged me.

28th May Rock Candy Mountain  + Burnt Creek
10.3 miles 2800 feet   and 5 miles 200 feet.  Sunny and rain.   Bushwhack off the top, down the fall line over snow pack.  Beautiful temperature inversion on the way up.

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29th May West Fork Yaak + Garver Mountain
5.5 miles 200 feet ascent + 9.3 miles 900 feet.  Cool and cloudy.  Brown coloured black bear mother plus cub.  Mother ran up tree.  Cub ran away.   Wolf scat

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30th May Dodge Creek and Boulder Trail
3 miles 300 feet ascent.  Cool and cloudy.  16 bear scats over 1 mile of trail including this beauty right in front of the rub tree.

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31st May Roderick Mountain
16 miles 2700 feet ascent – incredibly beautiful.  Bull moose.  Wolf scat.  Snake.  Around 100 log falls.  Very slow going.

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3rd June Shafer / Upper Pipe Creek Trail.  With Kirstie Yeager
9 miles 2000 feet.  Rainy.  Black bear and cub.  Dead squirrel.  So sad; – nothing had even wanted to eat it.

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6th June Cub Creek and Ross Creek.  Radio collar retrieval from grizzly bear (signal on mort).   With Kirstie Yeager
7 miles 3600 feet.  Hot sunny.  Here’s us bushwhacking and getting very fed up

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GPS collar retrieval from dead grizzly bear.   (I’m not allowed to show any images of the carcass).      We inspect what is left.   The bear died around 2 to 4 weeks ago.  All that is left is her fur and the skeleton;  there is no flesh left whatsoever, her carcass has been picked clean by the critters.   We know this bear was young and healthy last autumn and we are confused about how she might have died.  Then we find a puncture hole through her nose:  it might be that she was attacked by a mountain lion.    Alas, this is very sad.   However we stand below the waterfall and green shrubbery and reflect that she had found a beautiful spot for her last resting place.

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7th June Hellroaring Creek, Lucky Point
13 miles 1600 feet.  Hot, sunny

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1 moose.  4 elk.  Black bear prints

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8th June North Fork Meadow Creek, Keno Mountain
17 miles 3600 feet ascent.  Very hot and sunny.  2 deer on mountain top

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9th June Mount Tom,  Quartz Creek, Flagstaff
8 miles 1600 feet ascent.  Extremely hot and sunny.. 1 deer

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10th June Red Top, Garver Trail
12.5 miles 1600 feet.  Warm, sunny cloudy.  Moose approached me

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11th June Saddle Mountain, Roberts Mountain, Eastside
14 miles 4200 feet.  Very few bear scats but some pretty lupins

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12th June Caribou Mountain, Upper Ford
Warm, sunny, cloudy.  No bear scats.  Wildflowers in bloom, are changing

13th June Skyline Trail and Kootenai Face
9 miles 1700 feet.  Cool, sunny.   Black bear on 752 road.  Amazing views going upon Kootenai Face

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14th June La Foe, Look Out, Blue Lake
3 miles 600 feet.  Cool weather.     62 bear hair samples in one day.    Happy.

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15th June Buck Mountain, Iron Mountain, North Fork Ruby Creek
10 miles 3000 feet ascent.   Very little bear sign nor wolf sign.   Not too much going on so i’m up to my old tricks

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21st  June Rock Candy Mountain + Canuck Creek
9 miles 3000 feet   + 7 miles flat.   Warm, sunny.   Canuck creek – many good bear scat.
Heard the wampa wampa noise of a grouse blowing out its glands .  1 or 2 bear scats.    – This is really interesting – compare this to the number of bear scats found on Rock Candy Mountain in August.
– below – the twiggy lightning blasted trees at the saddle of Rock Candy Mountain.

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22nd June Lower Spread Creek, Long Meadows, Yaak Village
6 miles flat.   Warm.   Tent caterpillars going mad on the fauna

23rd June West Fork Yaak, Garver Mountain
15 miles 1100 feet.   Warm, cloudy, sunny.   2 moose.  Here are the tracks  from one and you can see how long its gait is …

 

24th June Deer Ridge
5 miles 700 feet.  Warm, cloudy, sunny.   Moose and snake.   Pretty  forest flowers.

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25th June Upper Pipe / Shafer Trail
10.7 miles 1700 feet.  Hot, sunny.   First huckleberries of the season.  Bear scats now containing fruit seeds.   Horse flies attacking.  Fell off log and nearly broke my leg.

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26th June Fish Lakes, Vinal Creek
8 miles 600 feet.   Hot and sunny.   92 deg Fahrenheit.  (wonderful).  Snake.  Beaver.   No bear scats.   I don’t really like this trail it is always brushy and gives me the creeps; but nothing ever happens.

27th June Roderick Mountain
15 miles 2700 feet.  Sunny.  96 deg Fahrenheit.  Sunshine heaven.  1 very fresh wolf scat.  3 fresh bear scats.  Old bear scats

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28th June North Fork Meadow Creek, 92 Road, Dodge Creek
Driving day.  Hot and sunny.   Bear scat inside hair corral.  See some logging.

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29th June Boulder Lakes Trail, Bruin Creek, Noisy Creek
10 miles flat.  Cool, cloudy, raindrops.  Cow parsley in bear scats.  Lynx at Mount Webb trail.     (After 300 days in Montana forests I have finally seen a lynx!;  it fled before I could take a picture, alas.)    Bear trail on Boulder Lakes trail.

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3rd July Windy Pass.  Radio Collar Retrieval  from Grizzly Bear (Signal on Mort) With Kirstie Yeager and Matt Miller

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8 miles in and out with frightful bushwhacking. Flat.   Hot.   We cycle up a closed road and have to drag our bikes through alder tree hell.   After 2 hours we ditch the bikes and then bushwhack, getting scratched to shreds.  I am bleeding from it feels like 100 lacerations.   I am being eaten alive by mosquitoes and flies which seem impervious to 100% deet.  I am hot and parched and my water has to be rationed.   After 2 more hours we arrive at the spot that Wayne has marked on the map.  Kirstie gets the radio equipment out so that we can use telemetry to find the radio / gps collar.  Then…..Kirstie announces she has left the radio receiver at the truck….  We will be unable to listen for the collar…..!  We are unable to find it on the forest floor.  We consider that we have to go home and try again another day.  But I lack the strength to stand the bushwhacking anymore.  I collapse on the forest floor, gibbering with madness.

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4th July USA Independence Day Holidays
Sunny.  See a moose then go route to the Yaak River Tavern.

5th July Hellroaring Creek and Burnt Dutch
13 miles 1700 feet ascent.  Cooler.  Moose.  Black bear

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6th July Keno Mountain
18 miles 3500 feet.  Fewer bear hair samples.  Horrendous biting black flies.

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7th July Mount Tom, Quartz Creek, Flagstaff
7 miles 1600 feet ascent.  Rain all morning and very cold.  Many bear scats.  A few deer.  Wild turkeys with chicks

8th July Red Top, Pete Creek, Garver Mountain, NW Scenic Area
15 miles 2600 feet ascent.  Hot, sunny.  Black bear with 2 cubs.  She huffs and jaw clacks and growls and will not get off the trail.  Later that day:  I encounter a human being!

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9th July Callahan Creek, Roberts Mountain, Kootenai South Face
2.5 miles 1500 feet.  Hot, sunny.   Kootenai Falls – I can make out Leonardo Di Caprio

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10th July North Fork Ruby Creek.  Buck Mountain, Iron Mountain
10 miles 3100 feet ascent.  Hot, sunny muggy.  1 brown coloured black bear which approaches me in an aggressive sidelong way.  Trees with bear claw marks

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11th July Saddle Mountain and Kilbrennan Lakes
9 miles 3100 feet ascent.  Cool, cloudy, no flies.  Brown coloured black bear.  12 fresh bear scats full of huckleberries

12th July La Foe, Look Out, Blue Lake
Driving day.  Cool a.m.   hot p.m.   See wolf trapping in progress by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

 

Nearly run out of gas; have to buy some from a passing truck.   Later see a moose feeding in Blue Lake

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13th July Skyline Trail
9 miles 200 feet ascent.  Cool.  Heavy rain at lunchtime (most inconvenient).  3 deer.  Very few bear scats

14th July Rock Candy Mountain
12 miles 3000 feet.  Cool, sunny.  Afternoon thunder and rain.  Virtually no bear scats.  AGAIN – – THIS IS REALLY INTERESTING – COMPARE TO ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN LATER.  Wild flowers still in bloom

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16th July Secret Location.  With Justin Teisberg and Kirstie Yeager
8 miles 1000 feet ascent.  Warm Evening.  Capture and processing of Loretta grizzly sow, 170lbs (?).  2 yearlings close by.  At 2230h we have to walk back to the truck 5 miles in the dark – shouting Hey Bear! Don’t eat me bear! ……all the way

I know it is disappointing – I am not allowed to show you the photos of the bear.    To compensate, here is a daunting picture of Kirstie’s alf-alfa .  You can only imagine that anyone like her who has the enduring persistence to grow this stuff, also has the courage and composure to dart an angry grizzly.

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18th July Another secret location.   With Wayne Kasworm, Matt Miller, Keri Teisberg, Justin Teisberg and Kirstie Yeager
Afternoon.  Hot.   Capture and processing of Reggie, 2 year old male, 170lbs.  GPS collar applied.   One month later Reggie goes into a lady’s back yard and is shot dead.

19th July.  Grizzly Point Photo Expedition
6 miles 1800 feet.   Hot and sunny.  Old bear scats.   Photo gazing out to Rock Candy Mountain.

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20th July West Fork Yaak + Garver Mountain Trail + Koo Koo Boyd Road.
16 miles 1600 feet ascent.   Hot and sunny.   Saw 2 human beings

21st July Caribou Mountain and Vinal Creek
13 miles 2400 feet ascent.   Hot and sunny.   Meet trails crew: Dave, Kelly and Katie have a photo of a large grizzly bear, seen in Yaak village yesterday

22nd July Deer Ridge, Idaho
7 miles 700 feet ascent.  Warm, sunny.  Brown coloured bear.   Berry pickers

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23rd July Sheepherder Mountain from Trailhead
14 miles 1600 feet.  Warm, sunny.  Bear scats, including 1 fresh, to Sheepherder summit.  Skookum to Independence Mountain 8 bear scats.  2 large brown animals, unidentified.  Fire crew clearing log fall

24th July Canuck Creek
8 miles 600 feet.  Warm, sunny.  Grouse and chicks.  I find the bus that time forgot.

25th July Shafer Creek Trail and Upper Pipe Creek
11 miles 1700 feet ascent.  Cloudy and heavy rain (distasteful).  Old bear scats and a couple of fresh ones.  Moose pad – which I manage to take back to the UK for my Natural History collection.   Set up bear hair rubs.

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26th July Dodge Creek and Boulder Creek
3 miles 300 feet ascent.  Cloudy, cool.  Heavy thick bear smell on trail

27th July Yaak Village rub trees and power poles
Flat walking day.  Cool, sunny, cloudy.  Fresh bear scat on paved road.  Cross Bill. Tanager.  IMG_4355

29th July Long Meadows and Road 746.
3 miles flat.  Hot, sunny.    Whilst setting up a new rub tree, we can hear some branches snapping, down a bank, behind some bushes.  We hear some spooky rustling.   Worried.   I pretend to be brave and say  “There’s nothing there, stop fretting.”    We set up a remote camera.    A month later I retrieve the remote camera and find that living at this site are:  a lynx, a wolf pack of 5 wolves, a grizzly bear.      Right to be scared….

30th July  753 Road.
Flat walking.  Hot, sunny.  No scats.  Set up rubs.

11th August.  Red Top, North Fork Meadow Creek, Burnt Dutch.
10 miles 2000 feet ascent.  Hot, sunny.  Black bear.  5 old bear scats, 1 fresh.  1 bear print.  2 large scats from cat species (bob-cat or lynx)

12th August.  Hellroaring Creek.
8 miles, 1000 feet ascent.  Very hot and sunny.  1 grassy bear scat.  1 huckleberry bear scat.   1 wolf print.  Amazing bear claw marks on tree.

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13th August.  Callahan, Roberts Mountain, Kootenai Mountain.
3 miles 1500 feet ascent.   Extremely hot, sunny.   2 bear scats.  Osprey in town.

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14th August.  Rock Candy Mountain – the whole loop.
15 miles 2400 feet ascent.  Hot, cloudy, thunderstorm, forest fire smoke.  Where previously seen no bear scats   (21st June and 14 July).  Over a 1 mile stretch of trail we see 52 bear scats!  Amazing how the bears have moved to concentrate on this part of the Yaak.  A bad electric storm comes in and have to run off the mountain.  Manage to avoid being hit by any lightning bolts; until get back home to the UK and lightning strikes several times….

 

15th August.  Garver Mountain Trail, NW Scenic Area, Pete Creek.
Flat walking, mostly driving.  Cool, cloudy, drizzle.  1 black bear  Get stung by hornet.

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18th August.  Keno Mountain
15.6 miles 2800 feet ascent.  Sunny, smoky.   Wolf tracks

19th August.  Vinal Creek, Caribou Mountain, Koo Koo Boyd.
16 miles 2400 feet ascent.  13 elk,mixed herd.  Yellow faced brown bear at Caribou Mountain.  Another brown bear on road

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20th August.  North Fork Ruby Creek, Buck Mountain, Iron Mountain
12 miles 3100 feet ascent.  Dense smoke haze.   Bear scats.   Wolf scats.   Wasp sting.

 

21st August.  Mount Tom, Quartz Creek, Flagstaff.
8 miles 1700 feet ascent.  Cool, cloudy.   Lightning storm.  Much less bear hair on trees.  Black bear crossing road.  Grouse.

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22nd August.  Skyline Trail and Eastside
12 miles 2300 feet ascent.  Sunny.   Black bear on 752 road.  Small brown black bear up at Skyline.  Early morning mist at Kilbrennan Lake.

23rd August.  Garver Mountain, Mount Obermeyer, West Fork Yaak
13 miles 200 feet ascent.  Hot, sunny.

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24th August.  92 Road, Dodge Creek, Boulder Lakes
3 miles 400 feet ascent.  Hot, smoke haze.   Stung by hornet and wasp at the same time.  See a beautiful deer.

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25th August.  Canuck Creek.  Saddle Mountain.
16 miles 3100 feet ascent.  Warm, smoke haze.  6 bear scats on road up to Canuck pass.   22 bear scats, many fresh on Saddle Mountain.  Large brown coloured black bear – a blur in the camera.

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Yes, it is the end of the season and this is the first bear picture i get – and it’s not even that good.  Until mid July i only carried my phone camera with me, because my wildlife camera weighs about 4kg and is not helpful whilst i’m doing hair collection work.  From mid July I realised I had no decent bear photos, so decided to start carrying the wildlife camera, but even then every bear I encountered ran away too quick, so it was only at the end of August I finally got a roughly decent picture….

26th August.  Deer Creek and Deer Ridge, Idaho.
5.5 miles 500 feet ascent.   Hot.  Smoke haze.   Deer Creek bridge closed because of forest fire.   5 bear scats.   Cute woodpecker.

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27th August.  Upper Pipe and Shafer Trail and Noisy Creek.
11 miles 2400 feet.  Warm.  Heavy smoke – eyes are stinging.   15 bear scats.

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28th August.  Burnt Dutch and Sheepherder.
17 miles 2700 feet ascent.   Warm.  Thick smoke haze.     8 bear scats.  Feels autumnal.

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29th August.  Beulah and Bruin Creek.  Blue Lake and Lost Souls.
Driving day and 4 mile hike, flat.   Warm.  Smoky.   1 fresh wolf scat.   Let’s remember why we are here….

30th August.  Long Meadows, Yaak Village environs.
Flat walking.   Cool and rainy.    Took down last remote camera at last possible moment of the entire season – to find just the night before – finally – a grizzly bear caught on camera!  Alas I can’t share the image…..      but i can if you come to one of my presentations .

HAIR COLLECTION STATS FOR FIELD SEASON

Total stats for May to August, appear as follows:

Rubs Corrals Opportune Total
May 351 1 352
June 450 23 4 477
July 348 31 15 394
Aug 287 38 3 328
Total 1436 92 23 1551

Of which, on sight, my estimates were:
Black Bear 531;  Black Bear Question Mark 580;  Grizzly Bear Question Mark 275;  Grizzly Bear 165.
53 new rubs were set up;  10 corrals were set up;  There were 22 corral revisits during the season.  17 of these got bear hair.

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Many thanks to the wonderful people of US FWS, Wayne Kasworm, Justin Teisberg, Tom Radandt, Caleb Schwarzkopf, Matt Miller and Kirstie Yeager.

 

 

 

 

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