Dogs Go to the Bears

By Beacon Staff

“Great bear research is being applied successfully,” says Jane Ratzlaff, Executive Director of the Glacier National Park Fund (GNPF). Four summers ago, an aggressive grizzly sow kept Old Man Lake closed to backpackers for most of the summer. In a two-summer training program funded largely by the GNPF, Karelian bear dogs, park rangers, and wildlife biologists camped out to redirect her behavior. Their success re-opened the popular lake to anglers and campers last summer.

The public now has a chance to meet the bear dogs that are so adept at working with bruins many times their size. This Saturday, May 3, GNPF is hosting a Bear Aware Event that includes Carrie Hunt of the Wind River Bear Institute along with her dogs. It’s a chance to hear first hand about current research and how it can be used hiking, camping, or at home to reduce conflicts with bears.

Seven other regional bear experts will also present current research as well as bear management in Glacier National Park and the Orphan Bear Cub Program. Karelian bear dogs will demonstrate how they work a bear, and hikers can learn how to use pepper spray on bears. Experts include Dr. Chuck Jonkel from Great Bear Foundation, Chuck Bartlebaugh of the Center for Wildlife Information, Gary Moss from Glacier National Park, Bill Lavelle of Bear Aware Flathead, Patti Sowka of Living with Wildlife Foundation, and Eric Wenum and Joe Weigand from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.

Bear managers fear a struggle this summer. “They feel with the tough winter that we may have some bear challenges,” notes Ratzlaff. “We think getting information out to the public is critical.”

On Saturday, the Bear Aware Event at Whitefish Middle School Auditorium runs from 2-5 p.m. Tickets are $5 and available early at Glacier Bank or The Toggery and at the door. Proceeds support GNPF.

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