As many black bear hunters are aware, there has long been a belief that large male black bears get to be large by avoiding the use of hunters’ bait sites during legal shooting hours. This belief has only intensified with the advent and extensive use of trail cameras placed at most bait sites. However, diving deeper into understanding this phenomenon is challenging without precise GPS collars on black bears, along with precise locations of bait sites. A research project in Wyoming is aiming to take a look behind the curtain of how black bears traverse landscapes during the hunting seasons with the hope of shedding new light on how large male bears get to be large.
Recently, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department began placing GPS collars on black bears throughout Wyoming to assist with population monitoring efforts. The original intent of collecting abundant and precise GPS locations from black bears was to inform the extent and density of DNA hair snare sites, which are essential to generate precise population estimates. However, these GPS locations have many other potential uses. One of these is to investigate black bear movement and behavior at and around hunter bait sites. With the cooperation of willing black bear hunters who voluntarily log the amount and timing of bait placements, movements of black bears in these areas can be compared to the locations and timing of bait placements by hunters. By comparing the movements of male black bears vs females, as well as juvenile bears vs adults, some insight can be gained into how age, sex, and individual condition can influence habitat selection, movement behavior, and harvest vulnerability. This work will initially take place in the Bighorn and Laramie Mountains in Wyoming, but the work will be applicable to all areas where black bear baiting occurs.
A study such as this is long overdue. This project represents the first intensive field study on black bear behavior and habitat selection in Wyoming in more than 20 years.
Dr. Joe Holbrook and graduate student Emily Holst from the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming, along with Wyoming Game & Fish Large Carnivore Biologists, will begin this research in the Fall of 2020. The aspirations for the work are high, and the Western Bear Foundation is committed to continuing its support to see this project through.
The Western Bear Foundation is actively looking for financial support to ensure the many goals associated with this work can be completed. This is an important research project for bears and bear hunters in Wyoming and we are committed to ensuring the project leaders have every resource needed to see it through. In 2019 the WBF granted the Wyoming Game and Fish Department $20,000 to purchase GPS collars, in 2020 we have funded a small portion of the Graduate Student work but much more is needed. We are beyond excited for this work and are anxiously waiting results. We are very proud of our efforts and the work done by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and University of Wyoming. Black bears are finally getting some attention and our understanding of this great species will be greatly increased from this work.
If you would like to help us fund this great project please reach out to us!