September 23, 2023

In a panorama lengthy empty of bears, the North Bay is now house to an growing variety of younger and rising households, residing lives filled with drama and journey.

A outstanding new genetic examine has discovered that Sonoma County-based matriarchs are elevating wholesome cubs, generally stashing them up in tall fir timber. Absentee fathers and stressed sons are visiting and vanishing. Some siblings had a quick romance.

Researchers are also gathering proof left behind by bears exploring Marin County’s suburban yards, metropolis playgrounds and the wilds of the western coast. The purpose is to map their wanderings and educate residents the way to stay amongst bears safely, akin to preserving rubbish safe.

The analysis — carried out by a big group of state businesses, nonprofit conservation teams, landowners and volunteers known as the North Bay Bear Collaborative – boosts hopes that North Bay bear populations will proceed their growth into protected East Bay woodlands.

“It’s giving us an concept of their relationships, and the way they’re shifting round,” mentioned lead scientist Meghan Walla-Murphy.

“We’re hoping to make use of this info to assist inform the general public that at the moment are residing with black bears, the place they weren’t 10 to fifteen years in the past, to assist each our human and bear communities keep protected and resilient.”

Black bears are shy animals and often keep away from folks. However they’re well-adapted to residing alongside us, and as their numbers improve, our worlds will overlap. On Friday, state wildlife biologists in South Lake Tahoe caught and relocated a 400-pound feminine bear — dubbed “Hank the Tank” as a result of the general public assumed she was male — blamed for a minimum of 21 house break-ins and intensive property harm. Her three younger cubs have been despatched to Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue for rehabilitation.

At 500 kilos, Hank the Tank often known as Jake or Yogi or just Huge Man is taken into account exceptionally giant, in line with state wildlife authorities (Picture courtesy of the Bear League) 

Till lately, Bay Space bears lived solely within the tales of Native Individuals and early 18th-century European explorers. The grasslands of Bay Space counties hosted grizzlies; solely the forests of northwestern Sonoma County had black bears. Grizzlies have been hunted to extinction in California within the early 1900s.

Now black bears are on the prowl, shifting into former grizzly habitat and rewriting one of many nice success tales in wildlife conservation. Statewide, the variety of black bears in California has jumped from about 15,000 to an estimated vary of 30,000 to 40,000 because the Eighties, in line with the California Division of Fish and Wildlife.

About 70 bears are estimated to stay in Sonoma County, in line with the collaborative’s knowledge.

Based mostly on anecdotal reviews, between two and 5 completely different bears are in Marin County, though it isn’t recognized if they’re everlasting residents.

Earlier this summer time, one was seen in a tree in Larkspur and later strolling by a yard in San Rafael. A mom bear and her cubs have been sighted at Novato’s 38-acre Miwok Park, with paths, picnic areas and a playground. Two years in the past, a bear climbed 40 toes up a tree close to downtown San Anselmo.

How did they get right here? Who’re their dad and mom, youngsters, siblings and cousins? The place are they wandering?

The solutions, hidden in DNA and pictures collected by the collaborative, might be revelatory. Over time, the group goals to construct a household tree of the bears, like does for folks. It hopes to establish the various seeds in a bear’s weight loss plan, and finally, create a map of every animal’s geographic vary.

Locator map of Pepperwood preserveThe examine, led by conservation science director Tosha Comendant, is presently targeted on bears in Sonoma County’s 3,200-acre Pepperwood Protect, a residing laboratory for ecological analysis positioned in jap Sonoma County about 90 minutes north of San Francisco.

With ample funding, the staff would increase its examine to grasp the genetic hyperlinks between bears in 17 completely different areas of Sonoma County, maybe even your complete state. It additionally seeks to check bears’ response to wildfires, and whether or not geographical obstacles, akin to freeways, trigger inbreeding.

In 2020, the undertaking obtained knowledge from 60 scat and fur samples from 9 Pepperwood animals: six females and three males. It was in a position to hyperlink two generations of a mom and cubs, in addition to half-brothers.

Dwight Center for Conservation Science Director Tosha Comendant shows vials of bear scat at Pepperwood Preserve in Santa Rosa, Calif.,  that is awaiting DNA processing at UC Davis on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Genetic analyses of the feces found in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties are helping build a 'family tree' of the growing number of black bears in our region. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
Dwight Middle for Conservation Science Director Tosha Comendant reveals vials of bear scat at Pepperwood Protect in Santa Rosa, Calif.,  that’s awaiting DNA processing at UC Davis on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Genetic analyses of the feces present in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties are serving to construct a ‘household tree’ of the rising variety of black bears in our area. (Ray Chavez/Bay Space Information Group) 

In 2021, it recognized seven females and two males. One male was later discovered wandering about 20 miles away, in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. These animals’ relationships are unknown, as a result of the information continues to be being deciphered. Collections from 2022 await processing.

This summer time and fall, scat and hair samples are being collected at Sonoma County plots, every 10 sq. miles. Samples can even be collected from 4 Marin County plots: Level Reyes Nationwide Seashore and Mt. Tamalpais, Olompali and Samuel P. Taylor state parks.

Volunteers stroll the rugged landscapes, looking for moist scat, wealthy in pores and skin cells. They scoop the poop right into a labeled vial and report its location with GPS.

Again within the Pepperwood facility, every vial is stuffed with preservative and shipped to UC Davis for processing within the lab of Benjamin Sacks, director of the college’s Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit.

His lab extracts the DNA from the cells after which genotypes them utilizing a collection of genetic markers that yield intercourse and particular person DNA fingerprints. This knowledge is shipped again to Pepperwood, the place geneticist Morgan Grey makes use of it to establish people and household relationships.

Diagram of tracking the black bear family tree