Bears All Over -- SPOKANE -- The population of Washington is skyrocketing -- for black bears, that is. As many as 30,000 black bears are estimated to roam the countryside and heavily populate especially the Northeastern areas of the state.
Gary Koehler, a research scientist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, has conducted a series of new studies in which black bears were tagged in order to determine their population and the size of the animals' home ranges.
Koehler attributes the flourishing black bear population to their adaptability. Black bears can live in a variety of climates, feeling at home in almost every habitat from mountains to swamps. They have home territories that range from eight to 10 square miles, which they roam with their cubs.
Compared to grizzlies, black bears also have a much higher reproduction rate. Campers and hikers can expect to see black bears within the upcoming weeks, as they come out of hibernation.
Black bears tend to avoid humans, but have been known to eat pet food left outside and to dumpster-dive for food in trash cans. Yet they rarely attack people.
Grizzly bears "are much more brazen when they come in conflict with humans," says Koehler. To avoid bear encounters, he stresses the importance of a clean campsite and proper disposal of garbage. -- Leah Sottile
Not a Lot Left -- SPOKANE -- While the black bears may be having a heyday, many other species of Washington and Idaho wildlife are not so fortunate. Last week, the Sierra Club released a report comparing the wildlife Lewis and Clark encountered on the westward expedition they began back in 1803 with what's left today.
The good news is that of the 122 animal species discovered by the explorers, most still exist. But the bad news is that 49 of those species are getting closer to extinction every day, already labeled as either endangered or threatened. The American bison, woodland caribou -- considered the most endangered mammal in the U.S. -- lynx and grizzly bears are experiencing especially hard times.
The report is part of the Sierra Club's seven-year celebration of the bicentennial of the expedition.
"They walked into a landscape abundant with wildlife and salmon," says John Osborn, the Sierra Club's conservation chair for Idaho and Eastern Washington. "In just 200 years, the wilderness has receded to islands in vast seas of clearcuts. The bicentennial must not become a eulogy for what's lost."
Lewis and Clark kept meticulous records of the plants and animals they encountered. Their journals describe in great detail what was here before white settlers moved in.
The Sierra Club calls for the permanent protection of undeveloped wildlands and roadless areas, as well as restrictions on off-road vehicles of all types as some of the preventive measures that may reverse the trouble some animals are facing.
"The key is habitat," says Chase Davis, the Sierra Club's regional representative. "Protecting our forests and ensuring clean water will be necessary to make sure these species are around for the 300th anniversary of Lewis and Clark. & quot; -- Pia K. Hansen
The Sierra Club report is available on line at www.sierraclub.org/lewisandclark
Deer Disease Spreading -- SPOKANE -- Chronic wasting disease was bad enough when it was just concentrated in Colorado and Wyoming. But now chronic wasting disease -- or CWD -- seems to be spreading to wild deer in Wisconsin, where three deer were found to have been infected, the Associated Press reported just days ago.
That's the first time the illness has sprung up east of the Mississippi. This winter, The Inlander alerted readers to the efforts of Washington and Idaho game management to monitor hunter-killed deer and elk for CWD, a disease that literally wastes infected animals away and invariably kills them.
Scientists say the disease is similar to "mad cow" disease, though there is, so far, no evidence that humans eating CWD-infected deer can develop similar fatal illnesses. Thus far, there is no evidence of CWD in either Washington or Idaho.
Much about CWD remains mysterious. A prevalent theory holds that it, and similar illnesses, are the result of haywire proteins, called prions. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) published a study in the March 19 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences saying that mice exposed to lethal prions developed high levels of the protein agent in their muscle tissue.
-- Dan Richardson