Studying bears, hands on
Five college students walked into the woods for the last time Friday morning at the end of a week-long course, holding onto hope that they may have finally snagged a black bear.
First checking lengths of barbed wire strung up in the trees for bits of hair to collect, the American River College students quickly moved on to check a motion-activated camera and a snare set to entrap a bear near the Sagehen Field Station.
While the Sacramento students only captured photos over the week-long course, they learned technical skills that prepare them for field work with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, or the Department of Fish and Game.
“We found our area very fast when we started seeing a bunch of scat and found a bed,” said Ali Von Striver, one of the students.
The group worked and learned from Doug Updike, the state-wide coordinator for bears, mountain lions, and wild pigs for the California Department of Fish and Game, and part-time teacher at the college.
“The class is intended to teach the biology, natural history, and ecology of black bears in California,” Updike said.
Von Striver said she took the course because she plans to major in wildlife and fish conservation at UC Davis, and another student, Ashley Giove, said this was her second time taking the class because she enjoyed it so much.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to have an opportunity to do this in cooperation with the Department of Fish and Game,” said Garris Hurt, one of Updike’s students.
But the students work isn’t just for their own education, and data collected goes to a 10-year study on bears in the Truckee-Tahoe area being conducted by Updike.
“Here we are looking for wild bears, and will be looking for habituated bears around Tahoe, then comparing how they use their habitats,” Updike said.
With the help of students, Updike will use radio collars to track the differences in movement between bears mostly isolated from people and those that regularly interact with developed, inhabited areas, he said.
“So far the most obvious thing we’ve learned is wild bears are hard to catch, and habituated bears are easy,” Updike said.