Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bear Tracking in the Ozarks

The Springfield News-Leader,  just published several articles on the Missouri Department of Conservation's bear tracking project, with even more pictures on the paper's web site.
Bears were common in Missouri when Henry Schoolcraft traveled through in 1818, and he mentioned them almost daily as he frequently commented on eating bear bacon and sleeping on bear rugs.  William Pettijohn, one of the first settlers in Christian County described the land in 1822 as "the country which flowed with milk and honey, bear's oil and buffalo marrow".
At one time bear were the second most common game and were a valuable commodity of trade, both for their hide and bear fat, while deer were "hardly worth shooting."  One record reports shipping 800 gallons of bear oil to New Orleans.
Bear had disappeared by the turn of the century in response to unlimited hunting and expanding human settlement.  Arkansas stocked bear in their northern counties between 1959 and 1968.  They have slowly been returning across the border into the counties below I-44.  Over the last 15 years, bear encounters have become increasingly reported along Bull and Swan Creeks.
The News-Leader article describes the project's goals of determining the bear population in Missouri.  As the population grows, there comes a time when too many bears force some of them closer to urban areas where they can become a problem.  Much like deer, the main method of control would be hunting, as humans and vehicles are the bears only predators.
There is a set of 35 pictures demonstrating the humane bear trapping process at this site.   The details, such as eye ointment to protect the sedated bear's eyes and traps tested on the arms of trappers are described in another article.  The initial goal is to attach GPS collars to 15 bears, allowing tracking of their movements via satellite.  The next step will be collecting bits of fur from baiting stations to determine by DNA how many different bears are in an area. 

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