DNA study doubles bear census.

By Jim Mann.Daily Inter Lake
The long awaited $5-million study of how many grizzy bears there really are in NW Montana is finally out. There are 765 bears, considerably more than previous estimates.

Federal study says grizzlies thriving in Montana. By Dina Cappiello. Associated Press Writer

As mentioned earlier, John McCain likes to attack this study in particular as the example of a big waste. Some will argue it is (they already have on this forum). McCain, however, fails to perceive what the study is about, waste or not. He has indicated it thinks it is about which bear is related to the next. He jokes that it could be used in bear paternity suits.

There are probably not exactly 765 bears. This number is the midpoint estimate. There is a + and – margin of error. The 95% confidence interval is 715 to 831 bears.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

33 Responses to It's finally out! Big DNA study yielding grizzly population count in NW Montana

  1. chuck parker says:

    Yee-haw, let’s start huntin griz. Time to kill a bunch of them varmits. Up in Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula, biologists reckon there’s bout 300 grizzlies, and the limit is 20 griz a year, or 8 sows, whichever comes first. That’s 10 griz or 4 sows per 150 bears. Now math ain’t my specialty, but if there’s bout 750 griz in Northern Montana, seems like we could kill around 50 a year, or 20 sows, whichever comes 1st. When they gonna start selling tickets? I’m like that govner from Idaho that cain’t wait to kill wolves. I wanna be 1st in line to legally kill me a grizzly bar.

    On behalf of the NRA and rednecks everywhere, special thanks to all the dunderhead do-gooders who helped with that fancy scintific DNA grizzly bear count that got grizzly bears delisted so we could hunt them again.

  2. Monty says:

    McCain has gotten a lot of political “mileage” out of this DNA study; it sells well to the ignorant masses. What is culture and art worth? Wildlife is part of our western culture and the $5 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions spent on lost causes. Wake up McCain, human misery is primarily caused by intellectual ignorance and the neglect of reason. Regardless of the reasons behind this DNA study, isn’t it better to know the bear numbers than not?

  3. chuck parker says:

    In addition to the population count, the study did produce some interesting information. There is genetic interchange between bears in Canada and the US. But US Highway 2 is proving to be something of a barrier, especially West of the Continental Divide. That’s due to human developments and human use of the area, which will only increase in the future.

    “Isn’t it better to know the bear numbers than not?” Hmmm, all I know is the numbers mean grizzlies in n. montana will soon be be delisted, and that’s not good for the bears. It means less habitat and increased mortality.

  4. Barb says:

    Monty — I agree completely!

  5. Barb says:

    People who care about the environment and wildlife need to understand and pay more attention to how the economy works so they can talk more intelligently about it and gain credibility with more moderates and open minded Republicans.

  6. JB says:


    It isn’t the study that is causing bears to be delisted as your post seems to suggest. The “cause” is the Bush administration’s faulty interpretation of the ESA. Knowing how many bears there are in Montana and the genetic diversity of this population is a good thing! 🙂

  7. chuck parker says:

    Getting grizzlies delisted doesn’t happen by accident, there are goals and objectives that have to be met–it takes a business plan, and the DNA bear count is the most critically important part of that plan. Go to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee online and look at the agenda and minutes for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem–this has been in the works for years. The DNA study gives them baseline data for 2004. The Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been doing studies on the population “trend” for 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. I think that might do it. Maybe one more year. US Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen can tell you the exact day the official delisting process begins, and when the rule changes will be published in the Code of Federal Regulations.

  8. JB says:


    All of that may be well and true (I’ll take your word for it), but the fact is it doesn’t change my assessment of the situation one lick. It is always good to have better quality/more information when making management decisions.

    From day 1, Interior under Bush/Cheney has been Hell-bent on delisting as many species as possible while listing as few as possible. Heck, Bush appointed Gale Norton, who once argued that the ESA was unconstitutional, to head Interior…talk about a fox in the hen house. My point, again, is that the Bush Administration made the decision to delist, not the scientists. Ask yourself this question: If the scientists would’ve found that there were only 180 grizzlies in Montana would you be criticizing them right now? Not likely. Rather, you’d be singing the praises of the people who prevented the delisting of the grizzly bear.

    In either case, it is wrong to blame or congratulate scientists; they collected information. How the information is used is the prerogative of the Bush Administration.

  9. Barb says:

    On what grounds did Norton argue the ESA was “unconstitutional?”

  10. JB says:


    I am unsure as to the grounds, but apparently the argument came up in a case before the Supreme Court (see: http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-1548732/Endangered-species-slippery-slope-back.html).

  11. Barb says:

    It’s a bit complex but I found another website that seemed to explain this viewpoint.

    It says:

    Congress shall have power to:

    Collect Taxes and Duties
    Borrow Money
    Regulate Commerce
    Naturalize Citizens
    Coin Money
    Punishment of Counterfeiting
    Build Post Offices & Post Roads
    Promote Inventions
    Constitute Lower Courts
    Punish High Seas Offences
    Declare War
    Raise an Army
    Provide a Navy
    Make Rules for Military
    Call Militia and Suppress Insurrections & Invasions
    Organize and Arm Militia
    District of Columbia
    To Make All Laws for Above Powers, and Powers Vested by the Constitution

    According to the US Constitution, Congress has no power to legislate anything other than in the eighteen areas listed above, and none of those allow Congress to pass environmental law, except number 18, which is defined in Article VI, Clause 2:

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding. (Bold and italics added for emphasis)

    As it was originally written, the Constitution was the supreme law of the land. The laws of the United States had to be “in pursuance thereof,” or subservient to the Constitution. Likewise, treaties could only be made “under the Authority of the United States.” Since the authority of the United States comes from the sovereign people who delegated it to the US Constitution, treaties also had to be subservient to it.

    If it’s llegally “unconstitutional,” there sure is a lot of support for it.

    It would be interesting and good to get the view from an environmental attorney. Any out there?

  12. Barb says:

    Seems Idahoans are left without donations to their fund for “wolf losses since Defenders let the state take over when the wolves were delisted:


    I don’t get why there isn’t business insurance to cover livestock losses due to natural causes. That doesn’t seem right. I mean, if a barn caught fire with all the animals in it, wouldn’t insurance cover that? Likewise, if a natural predator goes after livestock, why doesn’t insurance cover that?

    Oh, OK. I’m a bit slow here. It hit me — they would expect the livestock to be actually secured.

  13. chuck parker says:

    JB–I 100% agree with you that BushCo. wants to delist as many species as possible. BushCo. would get rid of the Endangered Species Act if possible.

    I think the $4-$5 million spent doing the DNA count on grizzlies, plus the $150k a year for monitoring the population trend, would have been better spent studying the issue of grizzly bear habitat degragation. The amount of grizzly bear habitat is finite–grizzlies could move out of the Bob Marshall Wilderness all the way to the Charlie Russell wildlife refuge in eastern Montana, but we won’t allow it. Hell, the Blackfeet Indians living adjacent to Glacier Park have a tendency to shoot grizzlies on sight. So I think that what we need to do is devote all of our money and all of our energy to finding ways to keeping grizzlies alive on the tiny bit of land where we’re willing to let them live.

    Maybe McCain will support $5 million from Congress to hire more wardens to enforce food storage regs in the Bob Marshall wilderness. Maybe Palin will make the US Forest Service allocate $5 million for the US Forest Service to hire more law enforcement people to keep ATVs and snowmobiles from creating illegal “user created trails” in grizzly habitat.

    I can think of 100 ways the $5 million spent counting grizzlies to get them delisted could have been spent to do something positive to assure the great bear’s long term future.

  14. JB says:

    “I can think of 100 ways the $5 million spent counting grizzlies to get them delisted could have been spent to do something positive to assure the great bear’s long term future.”

    I can’t argue with that; I just don’t want scientists blamed for Bush Co.’s priorities. Science and scientists have taken a real hit under this administration.

  15. Barb says:

    Sorry I was on the wrong thread!!

  16. JB says:


    Slow down, you’re going to hurt yourself. 😉

  17. chuck parker says:

    Science & research? Not so fast. Just for laughs and giggles, let’s pretend I’m a biologist and I work for the National Park Service and I decide to do a population census of grizzly bears in Glacier National Park. Every fall, a bunch of grizzlies gather in a remote part of the park to feast on a huge huckleberry patch. For 5 years in a row, I’ll count the bears. If the number decreases, I’ll assume there’s a proportionate decrease all over the park, Ditto for increases. Oh, almost forgot to mention this: I’ll count the grizzlies by chartering a helicopter and flying at tree-top levels. When the bears run, I count. I know I’ll have you’re full support for this research/science, right?

  18. kim kaiser says:

    Im Back,,

    nowhere do i see any reference to any sort of welfare that is so popularly supported here, either cattle or people,,

    Collect Taxes and Duties
    Borrow Money
    Regulate Commerce
    Naturalize Citizens
    Coin Money
    Punishment of Counterfeiting
    Build Post Offices & Post Roads
    Promote Inventions
    Constitute Lower Courts
    Punish High Seas Offences
    Declare War
    Raise an Army
    Provide a Navy
    Make Rules for Military
    Call Militia and Suppress Insurrections & Invasions
    Organize and Arm Militia
    District of Columbia
    To Make All Laws for Above Powers, and Powers Vested by the Constitution

  19. JB says:

    “…When the bears run, I count. I know I’ll have you’re full support for this research/science, right?”

    That depends on if this is the only method you use to estimate populations. Importantly (to our discussion anyway), this was not the method used in the 5 million dollar study John McCain hates so much.

  20. JB says:

    Kim says: “nowhere do i see any reference to any sort of welfare that is so popularly supported here.”

    “The real welfare of the great body of the people is the supreme object to be pursued…no form of Government whatever, has any other value, than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object.”

    — James Madison, founding father and 4th President of these United States

  21. Barb says:

    A government should be able to be flexible — to be what the majority of the people want. — me 🙂

  22. Barb says:

    I meant that quote was written by “me.”

  23. JB says:

    You know what, you’re right! You know what else is missing? Any provision for establishing an Air Force, CIA, FBI, NSA, or Homeland Security. In fact, I don’t see any provision for providing “disaster relief” to those states perpetually hit by floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes (which ironically, tend to habitually vote Republican).

    Frankly, I’d have no problem with the end of nationalized social welfare programs, as it would mean that power would fall to the States. This would disproportionately benefit the traditionally “blue” states, which generally have higher GDPs and receive a poor return on the federal contribution, and hurt traditionally “red” states, which get back more money than they put in (Note: of the states with the 15 highest GDPs per capita in 2006, 11 voted Democratic in the 2004 election).

    Okay, you’ve convinced me! Let’s vote down these welfare-loving socialists! Now wait a minute…I seem to recall that the Republicans recently controlled all three branches of the Federal Government? Didn’t we see an increase in the size of Government during this time period? Didn’t we see a huge accumulation of debt? Hmm…

    All sarcasm aside: As I’ve said from the start, it’s not a matter of big government v. small government and high taxes v. low taxes. IT IS A MATTER OF PRIORITIES. Republicans will spend all your money and more on their endless “war on terror” and tax the middle class to do it. No thanks.

  24. chuck parker says:

    JB–it was the only method used to count the bears. The huckleberry patch was a couple thousand acres on the border of Glacier and the Flathead National Forest, and there was no way of determining if the bears were from the Flathead National Forest, or Glacier National Park. Nothing was known about the productivity of the huckleberry patch, or bear use of the huckleberry patch relative to other food sources. Importantly, the biologist in the chopper was Kate Kendall, now famous for her non-invasive DNA bear count. Two people said her helicopter count of grizzly bears wasn’t science at all. They objected to buzzing bears in a national park with a helicopter. If you buzzed grizzly bears in Glacier with a helicopter and you weren’t doing it in the name of science, you’d be arrested for harassing a threatened species. Did the end justify the means? The press supported the biologist. The media crucified the two people who objected: Two college drop out hippie derelicts who did not have biology degrees. Do you have any issues with this study? I think the general public doesn’t know science from horse manure, and automatically supports any “research” pretending to be science.

    I think “Save Bears” is a biologist who lives in Montana. Perhaps s/he can shed some light on the Kate Kendall’s helicipter count of grizzly bears.

  25. Save bears says:

    Nope, Save Bears, don’t live in Montana, I actually live in Idaho, and have no money or time invested and could really care less how it turns out..

  26. JB says:

    Chuck said: “it was the only method used to count the bears.”

    Hmm…that’s interesting because I looked up the project website and it states that they used hair snags, fecal samples, and rub surveys to collect DNA and other information to form their population estimates (project website: http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/research/glac_beardnagb.htm).

    I also noted that they appear to have a peer-reviewed publication coming out in the Journal of Wildlife Management: Kendall, K. C., J. B. Stetz, D. A. Roon, L. P. Waits, J. B. Boulanger, and D. Paetkau. 2008. Grizzly Bear Density in Glacier National Park, Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management (in press).

    So, to answer your question, if all they did was buzz bears in helicopters then yes, I would have a great deal of trouble supporting their research. However, it appears that they did a great deal more than this. Frankly, I find it refreshing that they used hair snags, fecal samples, and rubs (which can be collected without disturbing bears) in addition to the helicopter.

  27. chuck parker says:

    JB–different bear counts, many years apart. Yes, Kendall did use a helicopter in the 1980s to buzz grizzly bears in Glacier National Park. But it was research!!! Science!!! Holy, holy, holy. One clown who objected was–what the heck is the guy’s name. He’s associated with the kooks at Earth First! He knew some lunatic named . . . Abbey. Ed Abbey. I think Abbey wrote a couple of books. Peacock. That’s the guy’s name who objected to Kate Kendall’s helicopter count of grizzly bears in Glacier. Doug Peacock. I think he wrote a book or two about bears. But what does he know. He’s not a biologist doing official research in a helicopter in a national park. I’m not sure there are any offical records of Kate Kendall’s helicopter count of grizzlies in the Apgar Mountains. I think the NPS burned the paperwork, vaporized everything. For good reason. The bottom line is, every “research” project on bears should be questioned, but the general public tends to fall to the ground and sing praises of any and all research. The advocacy here for Kendall’s DNA project being a case in point.

  28. chuck parker says:

    Hey “save bears” who does not “live in Montana, I actually live in Idaho,” do you know the “save bears” imposter who wrote “I am not for a free for all, but living in Montana . . .” at “State Puts Wolf Hunt On Hold” on July 31, 2008 at 9:15am?

  29. JB says:


    I worked as a researcher in a USGS Coop Unit for 4 years quite recently, so I know first hand what Government scientists have to go through. You may not know this, but early on during the Bush Administration after being continually embarrassed by USGS researchers whose findings conflicted with their assertions, Bush Co. put in a second, internal “peer review” process for all publications, in order to slow progress on research. Now every USGS publication goes through a “friendly” peer review, is reviewed by a government bureaucrat, and only then can it be submitted to a journal for actual peer review. The same process stands for abstracts (which is absurd because you don’t have enough information in an abstract to actually review it).

    You’re right, I cited the wrong study (here is the correct cite: http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/research/NCDEbeardna_detail.htm). However, you’ll see that they use the same methods in this study.

    “Field Results: Field activities went well during the summer of 2004. Field activities went well during the summer of 2004. Lower than expected spring runoff allowed crews to cross creeks and reach backcountry sites early. Rain in June, early July, and late August has kept fire danger at moderate levels in most of the study area. Crews collected approximately 33,000 hair samples (with approximately 21,000 collected from hair snag stations and 12,000 from bear rubs).

    Genetic Analysis: Hair samples collected during the 2004 field season identified a total of 545 individual grizzly bears.”

    And this is from the actual press release:

    “Scientists designed a comprehensive study plan that involved non-invasive methods of collecting hair
    from bear rubs (bears naturally rub against trees and posts) and systematically positioned hair traps that
    made use of scent lure to attract bears. During the 2004 summer field season, 4,795 bear rubs and 2,558
    hair traps were used to collect hair. Approximately 13,000 samples were collected from bear rubs and
    21,000 were collected from hair traps, providing researchers with a total of 34,000 bear hair samples.”

    I think this makes it clear that they did more than just buzz bears in a chopper.

    By the way, I am a staunch advocate of science, not because it is “holy” or beyond critique, but because it is constantly critiqued on false pretenses and (at least under the Bush Administration) has been under constant attack.

  30. JB says:

    Just to follow up. If you don’t like their use of helicopters that’s fine, say so. But don’t go around making claims that simply aren’t true.

    Here’s the study press release: http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/files/norock/products/USGSGrizzlyBearProjectNewsRelease.pdf

  31. chuck parker says:

    JB–Like you, I’m appalled by what BushCo. has done to undermine scientific research. On a different thread, I mentioned that one of the BushCo’s solutions to global warning was, don’t study polar bears. If there’s any possibility those damn scientistics are going to produce data suggesting polar bears are in trouble due to global warning, don’t give them any money to study polar bears.

    I don’t question the methodology of the DNA grizzly count, I question the need for the study. And I think the $5 million spent counting grizzlies could have been put to better use.

  32. Barb says:

    So if polar bears are in trouble, what can be done? To try to reduce carbon starting even TODAY won’t have an effect for years! What can be done NOW to help these beautiful animals?

  33. vicki says:

    Keeping morons out of the white house. I’m surprised that Palin hasn’t suggested aerial gunning the males so females will have more seals to eat. She is too nuts.
    You could also reduce interaction with man. That helps numbers too. But as you know, these animals are far from the beaten path, and interact mostly with indigenous settlements.
    The sad truth is that we may have to wait those many years to see any benefit from carbon footprints we have already left.

    Constant monitoring of species who depend on having habitat, and who’s habitat is shrinking is a no brainer. It is vigilance that is required to assure relapse of their status won’t occur.
    Perhaps methods need to be re-evaluated, but people would bitch about the money spent to study which would be the best study to do. SOmetimes the cost of arguing these things is greater than the cost of just doing the study.

    There is this free info for sure though, you can drill and build with no end insight….you can spend money upon money to research how money is being spent or which scientist’s method is best. But you can not get back a species that has become extinct. You only get one chance to preserve what is already threatened. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. Knowing that, I would always take prevention over cure, and existence over extinction.


September 2008


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey