KAMAS — State biologists are hoping to monitor the problem of black bears in Utah roaming into areas inhabited by humans in search of food during hot, dry conditions.
A lack of abundant food sources sends some bears into campgrounds and cabins, putting both the bears and humans at risk. Department of Wildlife Resources scientists are working to monitor the situation by tracking the population.
For the last five years, DWR biologists have been studying black bear populations by putting tracking collars on the bears. Currently, they are tracking one female, but hoping to find four more. They tranquilize a bear, check its gender, put a collar on it and release it. The data biologists collect, among other things, could help them understand how bears change their behavior when their food supply is more scarce than normal.
Tuesday, just outside of Kamas, some wildlife officers prepared a tranquilizer dart and took a short hike into the woods to find more female bears.
"Bears are so elusive that it's tough to count (them)," said Darren DeBloois, a DWR biologist. "It's hard to count them in any other way than use some sort of metric — some sort of representation of what's going on with the population."
By tracking how many young they give birth to during the winter, wildlife officials can better manage hunting season as well as the summer.
"We want to keep track of what populations are doing, all populations of wildlife," DeBloois said. "We should be able to find or anticipate increases in numbers of bears. And in a year like this, where it's dry, bears roam fairly widely, looking for food."
As people head out to campgrounds and cabins, DeBloois said it's important to keep food and trash out of reach.
"Especially if they leave something in their tent that smells good, they might get a nighttime visitor from one of these guys," he said.
The tracking operations don't always go smoothly. Once wildlife officials found a bear and, with a single shot of a tranquilizer, it fell asleep and biologists were able to inspect the animal. After getting an up close look at it, DeBloois discovered it was a male, and administered an antidote to awake it. But as officers tried to revive the bear and set him free, the bear stopped breathing.
DeBloois said it was the first time in 14 years an animal has died during a study like that, and it was frustrating.
"Whenever you're dealing with wild animals, and trying to handle them and study them, there's always a risk that an animal can be injured or even die," DeBloois said. "It doesn't happen very often, so we feel like the risk in order to gain the knowledge about the population is worth it."