GRIZZLY BEARS IN THE GREATER YELLOWSTONE REGION
Emerging Threat to Bison
For thousands of years, the grizzly bear, a magnificent and powerful keystone species, has roamed the forests and mountains of the western United States, representing an integral part of the Rocky Mountain ecosystem. However, as of 2023, they have been extirpated from 98% of their original habitat, and the Northern Rocky Mountains–including the Greater Yellowstone Region and Glacier National Park–represent one of their last remaining strongholds.
Federal, state, and tribal wildlife management agencies have made a concerted effort for many years to bolster grizzly bear populations and recover the species. However, despite many years of capturing grizzlies for management or research purposes, the collected health information is currently dispersed across the different agencies’ separately-stored datasets. This valuable information could harbor clues to health trends for grizzly bear populations, and amalgamating the chemical immobilization (anesthesia) records can help refine and define improved protocols for field operations, so it is imperative that it be gathered in one place for better use.
This gap in knowledge could lead to the loss of valuable preventive measures in the face of a catastrophic disease outbreak. A systematic data-sharing effort is needed to help manage, mitigate, and prevent disease, as well as ensure smooth captures that can aid grizzly bear experts in their efforts to protect this invaluable species.
To help bolster protective infrastructure for Greater Yellowstone grizzlies, VIEW will begin collecting health data to showcase the value of digitization of records systems and strong collaboration within stakeholders. Once the initial dataset is input into the system, it will be used to customize medical records in order to best meet the needs of field conservationists.
During the course of this project, VIEW will analyze current and historical data from blood and tissue samples to determine the health status of individual grizzly bears, and investigate trends in grizzly bear morbidity and mortality in the Greater Yellowstone Region. Moreover, we will conduct an overview of the existing stored samples and their accompanying data to determine if these historic samples can reveal health trends. Finally, we will compile the data on grizzly bear immobilization for entering into the Wildlife Health Information System (WHIS) database, developed by VIEW to allow evaluation of anesthetic regimens over time. WHIS is the first wildlife health medical record database platform for wildlife professionals in the field to document endangered wildlife.
Through analyzing important data and collaborating with members of protective agencies, VIEW will play an important part in empowering recovery teams to better serve the health of grizzly populations in the Greater Yellowstone Region.