June 25, 2014
I just returned from a breathtaking drive around the upper reaches of the South Umpqua watershed. It was part of the annual tetracycline bear marking effort conducted around the state by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife personnel. During the first week in June, bacon baits are placed at five mile spacings and left in a tree for 21 days. To get more details on that procedure see an earlier post on Estimating Oregon’s Bear Population.
One thing that always catches my eye when driving around the beautiful mountains in the South Umpqua is the abundance of bear sign. They’re not shy about marking their presence by biting, chewing, and rubbing on sign posts. Typically, it’s a 4″x4″ wooden post placed at an intersection usually in a remote area. The sign post is a US Forest Service informational road sign or directions to a nearby feature. The bears in the area can’t resist the temptation to leave their mark.
What is it about the sign post that attracts bears to it? Is it the smell of a treated post? Is it the quiet remote location? Is it because it’s a smooth long branchless tree that feels so good to rub? Could it be that bears are actually smarter than we give them credit? Are they trying to keep us out of their woods by destroying directional signs. Perhaps they know that real men don’t ask for directions and continue driving down a road attempting to find a place without help, this results in a lost party or a heated argument between a couple/family no longer desiring to come back to visit the area. Hmmm those would be bad news bears. Someone hypothesized that it might be a clever business model where the vendor supplying the wood posts is treating them with a bear attractant and the feds keep ordering more replacement posts. Ingenious rumor! Could be one, some or all of those reasons and a few more. It’s hard to know. What’s clear is that it costs money to provide good signage in the forest for public safety. It prevents folks from getting lost by being able to get to a destination and back.
The sign post is not the most expensive part of the equation. It’s the labor and vehicle needed to install a post in a remote area and replace it again and again.
All signs point to a very healthy bear population in the state of Oregon. The tetracycline bear marking project provides a population estimate that substantiates this and has supported the multiple bear harvest opportunities in southwest Oregon. The bear hunts aren’t having an impact to the healthy bear population in the southwest corner of the state. Harvesting a few more sign-post-crunching bears will help keep people from getting lost, wasting fuel driving around trying to get somewhere, save some marriages, and save our tax dollars spent on replacing posts which will help address this particular federal budget “crunch”.