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For the week of July 30 - August 5, 2003


Black bears targeted for population study

"This is the southern end of bear range for Idaho, and itís kind of marginal habitat. In Deer Creek, obviously thereíre bears up here, but the majority of the bears in the Wood River Valley are in different drainages."

ó BRUCE PALMER, Idaho Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist

Express Staff Writer

In an attempt to get a better grip on Idahoís black bear populations, Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists last week traveled to the far corners of nearby mountain ranges to wrap up a mid-summer study that included hanging pork fat and anise oil from the branches of trees to entice bears to marking sites.

In completing the study, biologists on Tuesday, July 22 traveled into the remote study areas to collect data and to remove the bait, which had been placed 20 days earlier. In that window of time, bears hit 14 of 100 bait sites, including five hits in the Wood River Valley.

"This is something new for us in this region," said Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Bruce Palmer as he navigated a dusty Forest Service road in the Deer Creek valley, northwest of Hailey. "It will basically just give us some idea of bear density. Itís just another piece of the puzzle for us."

Checking bear baiting sites in Deer Creek valley, Idaho Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Bruce Palmer explains how the departmentís new bear population study worked. Express photos by Greg Stahl

Palmer said bear populations are difficult to surmise because of the animalsí secretive nature. Historically, regional wildlife biologists have estimated bear populations based on information returned to the department from hunters, but the method was an inexact science and was most useful for sex and age estimations, Palmer said.

The new study, particularly once executed for consecutive years, should give a better indication of bear population densities and trends throughout Idaho.

Each of the studyís 20 transepts contained five bait sites, which were spaced at 1-mile intervals, including the one Palmer checked last week in Deer Creek. The others were placed throughout four of the Magic Valley Regionís hunting management units, as far south as Fairfield and as far north as the Boulder Mountains.

In theory, when bears catch the scent of the fat or liquorice-scented anise oil, they will climb the baited trees and leave claw marks in the bark.

Itís a method that has been proven in northern Idaho, but this is the first year Fish and Game is using the technique statewide.

"Itís something we have been doing in some parts of the state for the past several years," Palmer said. "This is just the first time it has been done uniformly, all across the state."

Pork fat and a film container of anise oil were strung in trees at 100 bait sites throughout Fish and Gameís Magic Valley Region. Of the 100 sites, 14 were hit by bears. Express photos by Greg Stahl

Of the bait sites in Deer Creek, none were hit by bears. One had been nibbled by a bird and another by an unknown small animal that had climbed the tree to get at the pork fat.

"This is the southern end of bear range for Idaho, and itís kind of marginal habitat," Palmer said. "In Deer Creek, obviously thereíre bears up here, but the majority of the bears in the Wood River Valley are in different drainages."

At the commencement of the study, Palmer expected to get two or three bear hits, and said he was shocked to discover that 14 bears had climbed trees to remove the smelly pork fat.

"It kind of confirms what fall hunters are telling us, and that is that there are a lot of bear sightings and signs of bears," he said.

Once compiled, data collected from the baiting study in the Magic Valley Region will be sent to Boise for further analysis, alongside information collected by Fish and Game biologists throughout Idaho.

"We can then use this information along with mandatory harvest checks to better manage black bears in Idaho," Palmer said.



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