From: Scott Sincoff, ENN
Published May 23, 2012 11:13 AM

Hair Follicles of Grizzly Bears Help Determine Bear Population

Keeping track of bears in the Northwestern region of the United States will soon be made easier because of the work of the United States Geological Survey.



The USGS has implemented a new study using the hair follicles of grizzly bears in areas of Montana and Idaho to better find out the size of the grizzly bear population. According to USGS officials, the method was successfully tested on grizzly bears in Glacier National Park’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Refuge in northwestern Montana. The federal bureau will next estimate the grizzly bear population in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem, one of the six recovery zones defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan.

USGS officials believe that over 40 grizzlies live within the 2,600-square-mile recuperation area. The USGS said that similar hair follicle testing methods will be conducted in this ecosystem as they were within the boundaries of Glacier National Park. Officials said that this will also give the Geological Survey more specific information pertaining to the population of the grizzly bears. It will also further develop the genetic database of the grizzlies within the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.

Marcia McNutt, the director of the United States Geological Survey, said that getting specific counts of animals in the wilderness are very difficult to obtain, especially if the animals have similar appearances. "The great advantage of using DNA for counting is that it not only distinguishes individuals reliably, but also can determine how related or inbred a population has become, an important parameter in monitoring genetic diversity in the wild," said McNutt.

McNutt states that individual bears will be classified by bear hair DNA collected from nearly 800 scent-baited and over 1200 unscented poles, trees and posts that bears rub up against. This specific information will be used to determine the bears' population and genetic health.

Hair samples will be obtained throughout the summer of 2012 and sent to federal laboratories for analysis. Only a miniscule amount of hair follicles are necessary to discover information about the specific bear that left the sample, such as species, individual identity, relationship to other bears and gender.

"Determining the size and distribution of bear populations with accuracy and precision requires a lot of resources because it involves intense sampling on a large scale," said USGS scientist Kate Kendall. "That the local community and agencies were able to pull together the funding for this effort is an indication of the importance to them of moving toward recovering this population."

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