Grizzly Bear Survival in Oil and Gas Operating Areas

Anja Sorensen, Gordon Stenhouse, and Karen Graham (fRI Research Grizzly Bear Program)

May 9, 2017

Executive Summary

This project was undertaken to determine if new research techniques and methodologies could be operationalized into grizzly bear monitoring activities at both BMA and watershed scales. The focus of the project was to evaluate scat collection DNA methodologies to investigate population assessment including occupany and survival.

Results from scat collection efforts by researchers showed that it is certainly possible to gather grizzly bear scats in identified watersheds by driving current access features, all weather gravel roads. In addition our research teams, were able to gather other grizzly bear scat samples in this BMA while engaged in other data collection efforts. When viewed together this collection technique showed the value and potential of engaging others who are working in and using grizzly bear habitat to assist with scat collection to support monitoring efforts. We also showed that even with a relatively short collection period (2 months) important data could be collected from scat sampling along motorized access features. DNA extraction rates from scat samples were lower in 2016 than in previous years and we are working with the Norwegian genetic laboratory to understand the reasons for this. Grizzly bear hair remains, in our opinion, the best biological sample for genetic analysis that can be gathered in a non-invasive manner.

Our results did show that scat DNA methodologies allow for the monitoring of survival of individual bears within a BMA and we were also able to understand, from historic GPS location data, that the identified bears were still using a landscape area that is consistent with previously know home ranges. These data sets, when collected on a regular and ongoing basis, will allow managers to speak to questions of grizzly bear displacement and natural resource extraction activities as well as other human uses of the landscape. Similarly these data sets from scat DNA provided evidence of grizzly bear occupancy in watersheds that in 2014 had few or no bears being identify within the watershed. It is recognized that DNA inventory does not locate every bear on the landscape or within a watershed and should managers have specific concerns about either human caused mortality rates or occupancy in key watersheds this DNA scat technique can help to provide greater insights into these questions at a relatively low cost. Our results showed the presence of bears in watersheds were no or few bears were previously identified and that except for one animal these bears were known to reseachers from previous DNA inventory work or from research efforts associated with the capture and handling of bears in this BMA.

Although more work is still required from the laboratory perspective our partnership with the NIBIO laboratory is continuing to put more effort into improving extraction rates and field protocols to maximize genetic data from scat samples. This work is continuing in 2017 as part of the fRI Grizzly Bear Program. As a large scale population inventory tool we believe that current established techinques using scent lures and barb wire are the best approach, however scat sampling can certainly augment and support other monitoring efforts.

Main Body of Report

Technical Appendices

Full Report

# 16-ERPC-04