Throughout the spring and early summer, I’ve been volunteering with Sarah Elmeligi, a PhD candidate researching the threatened Grizzly Bear population in the Canadian Rockies. It’s estimated that there are only 120 grizzlies in Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks, known for harsh weather and sparse food. Sarah’s research focuses on understanding how the presence of people on a trail affect bear behaviour. As humans, we think of trails as being just for us. But animals know that trails are often the easiest way to get from one place to another too. Just how long does that bear wait to come back onto the trail after you’ve walked by? She heard (and smelled!) you coming, but just how close did you get before she slipped into the woods? More importantly, how much more difficult are we making the lives of these bears by impacting their ability to move about their home in search of food and mates?
The part of Sarah’s research I’ve been helping with is setting up cameras on a network of trails throughout the Parks. These cameras have a motion sensor that triggers a photo when an animal or a person goes by. What really excited me about this opportunity was the chance to learn from Sarah directly – to better understand the environment from a bear’s point of view. So, how do you position a camera that’s most likely to capture the moment when a bear walks by? Turns out there’s a lot to think about. You want to find a spot where an animal trail and a human trail intersect. When the trails are covered in snow (as they were until June this year!), that spot can be tough to find.
And don’t forget: bears are a lot shorter than people, so you need to put the camera pretty low on the tree. Ideally, you want to position the camera in a spot where the landscape naturally funnels wildlife onto the trail. A fast creek, a steep slope, thick willow bushes. Bears take the path of least resistance too, just like us.
It’s early stages right now – putting up cameras on both popular and remote trails throughout the Parks – but I’m excited to see the results as images are captured and Sarah analyzes the data. This research could be a big step forward in understanding how we impact grizzly bears and give us a tool to better manage trail use. Thanks for the opportunity to learn from you, Sarah!