TAHOLAH (June 25, 2004) – The black bear figures prominently in Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) culture. In the past, QIN members would travel from the Olympic Peninsula to as far as The Dalles, Oregon to trade items at a large spring gathering of many tribes. QIN members traded black bear meat, hides, as well as tools and art created from the bear which were prized by other tribes, according to Justine James, QIN tribal member, and Timber/Fish/Wildlife cultural specialist.
To this day, the bear retains a special place in QIN culture and life. In fact, the Nation’s school sports teams are called the Chitwins, the Quinault name for bear.
With thousands of acres of good bear habitat on the Nation’s lands, the numbers of bears have flourished to the point where they have begun to cause a problem. The bears cause damage estimated at more than $1 million each year to commercial trees owned by QIN and individual tribal landowners. 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 limiting, one of the bear’s favorite foods is the inner bark layer of young conifer trees. While satisfying a need for carbohydrates, the damage caused by the bear to get at the bark often kills the tree. In areas of high bear populations, tree damage can become severe.
The QIN has started a multi-year study of bears on its lands to better assess the numbers and habits. For the study, bears trapped in culvert traps or are stalked, and darted with a tranquilizer. One of eight volunteer veterinarians then surgically inserts a transmitter in their body cavity. The 4-inch-long, torpedo- shaped radio will allow wildlife biologists to determine population size, and provide the ability to track the bear movements. “This will allow us to determine home ranges and feeding patterns. We also want to see if bears and elk are present at the same time on the prairies during elk calving season. We have concerns that the black bears maybe preying on elk the calves,” said Grover Oakerman, QIN wildlife biologist. This on going study is funded by the QIN.
The Nation has taken several steps to try to minimize the bear damage to trees including providing feeding stations containing a kibble made especially for bears. The stations have helped, but only in limited areas because of the numbers of bears and the size of the reservation.
In an effort to further reduce bear damage the QIN has authorized pre-approved QIN members to guide a limited number of non-Indian bear hunters on the reservation. “This is a very controlled hunt,” said Oakerman. “The non-tribal member bear hunter will be screened and must hunt a with a designated QIN guide. We are trying to reduce bear damage in very specific areas by removing bears from high damage sites. We provide maps showing where bear damage occurs and encourage the guides to hunt in those places.” Hunting is underway this spring; another hunt is planned for this fall.
Black Bear Fast Facts
- Scientific name: Ursus americanus
- Size: Adults range from 5 to 6 feet long, and 2 to 3 feet tall at the shoulder. Though a number of adult male bears caught in the QIN bear study have been between 6 and 7 feet long.
- Weight: Adult males average 225 pounds and females 130 pounds. Yearlings average 60 to 70 pounds. The largest adult males so far caught in the QIN bear study have exceeded 400 lbs.
Color: Black bears may be black, brown, cinnamon or reddish-blonde. The black color phase is the most common color phase on the QIN Reservation.
- Abundance: More than 25,000 black bears are estimated to live in Washington State out of an estimated 600,000 in North America).
- Life span: Twenty years or more in the wild, more than 30 in captivity
- Breeding: Normally breed between 3.5 to 5.5 years. Females have a litter every other year. Cubs, usually two, are born in late winter while the female is in the den. They remain with their mother for about 15 months.
- Denning: May den from mid-October through April beneath roots or downed trees, hollow logs or in rock outcrops. They are not true hibernators and may move between dens during mild winters. On the coast of Washington, some bears may remain active throughout the winter. Most QIN black bear den by early December and become active again in late March.