Long Term Research in northwest Montana

Science Center Objects

The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) in northwest Montana is one of the last strongholds of the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states. Of the six established grizzly bear recovery zones, the NCDE is the third largest in area, potentially harboring the greatest number of grizzly bears, and is the only zone contiguous to a strong Canadian population. However, little information exists about the bears in this region and as agencies strive to recover the threatened grizzly bear, it is clear that there is a need to assess the grizzly bear population in the NCDE. Managers and biologists are working to identify population size, trend, survival, and the corridors that link separate populations. Advances in genetic technology allow us to address these parameters through the identification of species, sex, and individuals from DNA extracted from bear hair without ever handling a bear.

Retired scientist Kate Kendall initiated several projects that developed into long term data on grizzly bear ecology in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.  In collaboration with USGS scientist Tabitha Graves, ongoing work seeks to understand the ecology of these bears through time. 

The mother bear had just left this young bear in Glacier National Park. Our project aims to determine what happens to bears.
A mother bear had just left this young bear in Glacier National Park. USGS research aims to determine what happens to bears once they leave thier mother.(Credit: Tabitha Graves, USGS. Public domain.)

Greater Glacier Bear Project (1997-2002)
No reliable information exists on the status of Greater Glacier National Park Area’s grizzly bear or black bear populations. Goals of the Greater Glacier Bear DNA Project, an interdisciplinary, interagency study, are to develop and apply non-invasive genetic techniques to determine density, trend, distribution, and genetic health of the grizzly bear and black bear populations in the greater Glacier National Park area and optimize genetic laboratory techniques for non-invasively collected hair and feces. This project applies these techniques in conjunction with statistical models to determine the population size. The results will be used to design a non-intrusive population trend monitoring scheme for grizzly and black bears inhabiting the GGA and DNA profiles with information on the degree of genetic variation, relatedness of individuals, and sex will be used to address bear conservation issues. For more information follow the link: Greater Glacier Bear Project

 

Northern Divide Bear Project (2003-2008)
This project applies non-invasive genetic techniques in conjunction with statistical models to estimate the number of grizzly bears and black bears inhabiting the NCDE. DNA profiles with information on the degree of genetic variation, relatedness of individuals, and sex will be used to address bear conservation issues. The results will be used in conjunction with the GGA project (below) to investigate questions such as survival rates and changes in regional density patterns. For more information follow the link: Northern Divide Bear Project

 

Northern Divide Bear Rub Project (2009-2012)
This project is evaluating the effectiveness of noninvasive sampling to monitor trends in the threatened grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) of northwestern Montana. This work uses hair collection methods similar to those used during the Northern Divide Bear Project (above), however, instead of generating a snapshot of population size, this new work will collect bear hair over multiple years to determine how the population changes over time. We will use detections of individual bears at un-baited, naturally-occurring bear rubs (trees, posts, and poles that bears rub on) to examine population trends, including changes in abundance, survival rate, regional density, and genetic structure. Collecting hair from bear rubs promises to be a safe, reliable, and cost-effective way to sample bear populations and monitor their status over time. For more information follow the link: Monitoring Bears Using Rubs Project

 

Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Project (2011-2013)
The Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem borders Canada and encompasses the Cabinet and Purcell mountain ranges in northwestern montana and northern Idaho. The 9,875 km2 study area (2.24 million acres) will include the 6,690 km2 Cabinet-Yaak Recovery Zone and 3,185 km2 surrounding area occupied by grizzly bears. For more information follow the link: Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Project

 

Whitebark pine cone and seeds.
Image of whitebark pine cone and seeds.(Credit: Suzanna Soileau, USGS. Public domain.)

WHITEBARK AND LIMBER PINE COMMUNITIES
Whitebark pine is a keystone species in the communities where it occurs, whitebark and limber pine seeds are a significant food for wildlife, especially for threatened bear populations, and both species are declining due to introduced disease and fire exclusion. Studies were initiated on whitebark and limber pine communities from southern CA to northern Wyoming with an emphasis on Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks. Project goals were to document regional population status, distribution in GNP, blister rust infection and mortality rates, effects of decline on biodiversity, impacts of blister rust control activities on surrounding plant communities, identify stands for treatment with managed fire and planting.

Whitebark Pine Communities
Limber Pine Communities