Tribe Faces Challenges With Bear Study

NEAH BAY (June 27, 2006) — Homeowners trying to capture moles in their yards can appreciate the frustration of Makah tribal biologists attempting to capture black bears.

The tribe is trapping black bears and radio-collaring them as part of a three-year study of the bruins on the reservation. Two types of traps are used by the tribe; a culvert trap with a trigger in the rear of the cylindrical pipe that closes the door and a leg snare that encircles a paw when the trigger is stepped upon. Remote cameras at each of the trap sites reveal all too clearly how the bears manage to steal bait and elude capture or simply destroy the trap.

Each day, the biologists check the traps. Some mornings, there are no bears but there many pictures. A chorus of groans is heard as the photos reveal a bear in the trap – only to escape.

Escapees include:

• a mother bear letting her cub out by slapping around the trap until finding the door release lever
• a bear reaching through the bars on a trap to free himself after being trapped with a skunk
• a previously trapped and collared bear returning to destroy the trap and steal the bait
• then there’s the camera-shy bear who decided to get rid of potential evidence by destroying the camera and then stealing the bait.

“We have to move the traps around if we’re getting too many escapes. The bears get too smart and it’s best to try a new location rather than continue to battle an educated bear,” said Jon Gallie, wildlife biologist for the Makah Tribe.

“The pictures can be frustrating, but they are also valuable,” said Rob McCoy, wildlife biologist for the Makah Tribe. “The photographs help us identify bears by their unique markings such as a torn ear or a scar on the nose. It also gives us ideas how to change the trap to make it work better.”


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]