Black bears avoid grizzlies

What do bears do in the woods? They rub on trees, for one thing.

That particular habit allowed University of Alberta researcher Andrea Morehouse to collect hair left on particularly attractive scratching sites.

She used the hair from grizzly bears to test their DNA and get a more accurate count on their numbers in southwestern Alberta.

However, black bears like to rub, too, and now their hair is being tested by Annie Loosen, a U of A masters student and researcher.

Loosen used hair collected in 2013 and 2014 to identify 347 black bears in Alberta’s bear management area six, which is south of Highway 3. Trail cameras show that not all bears stop to rub, said Loosen. They may sense a more dominant black bear has already rubbed or they may be intimidated by evidence of a grizzly bear.

That means collected hair samples can’t be relied on to tell the population story. However, Loosen said there hasn’t been an update on Alberta black bear populations for 20 to 30 years. There is a hunting season for black bears and they are generally considered to be more plentiful than grizzlies.

Morehouse’s research has found that at least 213 grizzly bears live or pass through the study area, and black bears tend to avoid grizzlies.

“Landowners, fish and wildlife officers, provincial biologists have noticed that black bears aren’t in places that they’ve usually been,” said Loosen.

“There’s some suggestion that black bears are altering movements or range in response to a growing grizzly bear population.”

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