July 30, 2011

INCREASING HUMAN RUN-INS WITH BEARS:

Griffin W. Smith has some practical advice to offer about bears. As a cross-country trail runner, he has seen them in the woods many times in southern Colorado. “But when a bear is in your kitchen, it seems bigger,” said Mr. Smith, 21, a biology major who was at home last week from college when he came downstairs for breakfast and found a black bear by the refrigerator, slurping from the dog’s dish.

Bears — dangerous and unpredictable always — are prowling broader areas of the West in closer contact with people than ever. “It’s raising the question of how tolerant we are willing to be as humans — where we will allow bears to live and where we won’t,” said Steve Gehman, a wildlife biologist in Bozeman, Mont., and co-founder of a nonprofit research group, Wild Things Unlimited.

The intensified level of conflict is also spurring new research that is challenging some long-held assumptions about bears, notably the idea that bear population is the key variable. As solitary and often nocturnal creatures — unlike, say, elk, which herd together and can be easily counted — bear numbers are guesses at best, scientists say, especially for poorly studied species like the black bear. And shifting patterns of bear behavior, they say, like bears’ learning new feeding habits, could be even more important than population trends.

More evidence of just how ahead of the curve David Baron was.