Makah Tribe Tracking Black Bears On Tribal Lands

NEAH BAY (June 27, 2006) — Historically, Makah men of status wore bear hides and regalia that included bear claws. The meat was an important source of subsistence food as it is today.

To better manage tribal lands for the welfare of the black bear, Makah tribal biologists are conducting a three-year on-reservation study that will provide information about bear numbers and their preferred habitat.

“Black bear numbers can vary greatly within any given area,” said Rob McCoy, wildlife division manager for the Makah Tribe. “We don’t have a good baseline of information about the bear population to develop management decisions such as bear harvest levels and changes in forest practices to provide better habitat.”

Damage caused by bears to young trees to Makah forest lands is another reason the tribe needs a good picture of the number of bears on the reservation. Black bears are omnivores, meaning they will eat almost anything ranging from plants to small rodents as well as young elk and deer. In early spring when food supplies are most limited, one of the bear’s favorite foods is the inner bark layer of young conifer trees. Damage caused by the bear to get at the bark reduces its value and can kill the tree.

An initial bear damage inventory on the Makah reservation showed bears prefer silver and Douglas fir if they can get it, but most often go after hemlock because it’s the tree most prevalent. Two of the three regions of the reservation receive heavy bear damage, with between 42 to 64 trees per acre affected, while the most remote area of the reservation has less than two trees per acre affected despite similar trees and forest harvest practices. “It may be that using trees as a food source is a learned behavior and because that part of the reservation is separated by the river, that behavior isn’t as prevalent in that group of bears,” said McCoy.

“It’s important to get the baseline numbers of bears in hand before we contemplate changing forest practices or bear harvest regulations,” said McCoy. “Female black bears don’t breed until they are nearly 5 years old and then only reproduce every two to three years. You can easily over-harvest black bears because of their low reproduction rate.”

To conduct a bear population census, the tribe is trapping black bears and fitting them with radio collars. The collars will enable the tribe to track the bears and to determine home ranges for female black bears and cubs, learn preferred habitats for winter den sites and track survival rates. Male black bears will not be collared because they range much farther than females making it too expensive to track them, said McCoy. However, all of the trapped bears will receive an ear tag that will aid in tracking them through harvest reports and other sightings.

A system of remote cameras records visits to each trap site. This helps to identify the number of bears in the area and note some identification traits of those bears.

In the course of the three-year study, the tribe plans to: radio-collar 10 females; trap and release other bears and obtain genetic information from hair to help estimate an overall population. The tribe will use the results of the study to produce a black bear management plan for the reservation.

A $460,000 Administration for Native Americans Environmental Regulatory Enhancement grant and $157,000 from the Makah Tribe will pay for the study. The Quinault Indian Nation is donating use of some of their traps for the project.


For more information, contact: Rob McCoy, Wildlife Division Manager, Makah Tribe, (360) 645-3058; Jon Gallie, wildlife biologist, Makah Tribe, (360) 645-3069; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501, [email protected]