Friday, August 25, 2017



The grizzly specialist sat at his piled-high desk.  His “office” was a huge open room with a high ceiling, once a meeting room or warehouse, but just right for the frieze of mounted heads of Montana animals on one wall.  His work was supervised by many eyes, all of them glass, and they did nothing to cut down the work load.  A great dilemma of Fish and Game jobs, which one undertakes because of loving field work, is that the paperwork gobbles up all the time, and time is the single most crucial element of field work.  The reason the indigenous tribes were great hunters was not just that they were hunting for food, but also that they had so much time to just watch and understand, make connections.  

In the parking lot outside lingered a bear trap.  It was a little small for a big boar or a sow with cubs, so he had ordered a bigger “family-size” version.  There were probably more sophisticated versions.  His warning signs were stored indoors to save them from weather until they were put out by the trap.

When the phone rang to tell him about a bear problem, he sighed.  On the other hand, observers who reported what they saw — no matter how trivial — acted as his eyes and ears, guided where he should go, and made him more effective.  People who said there was no use calling because nothing would happen were wrong.  An accumulation of small reports were often more significant than one big event and even if no bear were captured in a hurry, in the long run things DID happen.

The boy’s loss of his beloved calf hit the specialist hard.  He always felt responsible. He dropped everything to respond but didn’t hook up the bear trap before getting out there to look because it was important to think about best placement and baiting.  Since the boy had said the bear had ear tags, he would be able to find data on previous encounters with this individual, which clearly included trapping it at least once, fairly recently after they began using the ear tags.


I’m going to include some of the more interesting protocols.  This is not for a trap that captures the animal, but rather “traps” its image.  Another kind of trap is one that captures fur hairs for genetic analysis.  Since there are not enough human beings to be everywhere bears hang out, these are a way of observing second-hand.

What struck me with this set of requirements is the extreme care to handle the scent lure, which is partly fermented cow blood and partly fish oil.  It’s packaged by the liter and if the team is camping overnight, must be hung in a tree entirely away from the people, the same as food is handled.  

Besides government agencies, there are active citizen conservation organizations that work parallel.  In terms of government, it’s good remember that federal and state agencies are not the same.


Here’s an interesting website with lots of photos. monitoring
“WE” are Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project partner organizations: Conservation Northwest, I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition, and Wilderness Awareness School

CWMP Grizzly Bear Remote Camera Trap Protocol May 4, 2016

. . . situating the trap in a location that will likely attract bears because of nearby natural food sources, existing marking trees, or trails and travel routes that appear to be or are predicted to be used by bears are all habitat features that can increase the chances of success of the camera trap.
If in the process of scouting for a specific location for the camera trap, a team encounters a rub tree, large animal carcass, or other feature that acts as a natural attractant for bears, this camera trap can be constructed adjacent to the natural attractant.

Once an area has been selected (see above for guidelines), look specifically for a small clearing where a debris pile can be created. Construct a pile of sticks, branches and woody debris in the middle of the clearing. The pile should be about 3 feet in diameter and height with a mix of fine and coarse material, and dense enough so that the full liter of scent lure poured on it will have a lot of surface area to adhere to.

The pile should be constructed in a location where the remote camera can be attached to a tree about 15 feet away facing the pile. Ideally the camera will be facing roughly north to decrease the chances of the sun triggering the camera and also to avoid backlighting animals that trigger the camera when they visit.

Follow general guidelines for remote camera trap installation in regards to situating the camera. Because the scent lure used for these traps is so powerful, it is vital that whoever is handling the bait does not touch or go near the camera. Ideally one person can be responsible for handling the bait and another for the camera.

Applying the scent lure should be the final thing you do at the camera trap location. Completely construct the entire debris pile and set up the remote camera and test it first. Fill out the camera check datasheet completely. Once the camera is set with all the appropriate settings and situated facing the debris pile correctly, turn on the camera and close it. Then have one person open up the scent lure and apply it to the debris pile and any overhanging structure available.


This set of cautions makes it sound as though bears were everywhere and likely to interfere.  I’m not sure that’s accurate.  I get the impression that bears travel, investigate, exhaust what they find, and go back to traveling.  But it’s random and influenced by many forces, like heavy rains or harvest or other more dominant bears arriving.  I’m guessing.  

Psych theory suggests two things:  that lures like scent are powerful and even trace amounts can work, which is an idea good for stories about human dating and perfume samples.  But also intermittent unpredictable rewards work better to engage the target than steady dependable feeding, like a pet schedule.  Wandering edible livestock will always attract bears powerfully, but they’ll come back to a good source like a sheep bedding ground until it’s no-good anymore.  This is a novelist talking.  Almost a criminalist.

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