Grizzly Bears

Project Partners

Defenders of Wildlife, Russ Talmo and Erin Edge

Board Advisor

Nina Fascione


Team Grizzly from EWCL Class 7 has worked over the last 18 months to minimize grizzly bear mortality in Northeast Washington State alongside our project partner, Defenders of Wildlife, and several other local partners and organizations. We began by identifying the needs for grizzly bear conflict mitigation in the Selkirk Mountain Ecosystem, particularly with respect to anthropogenic attractants in local communities.

The Selkirk Mountain Ecosystem stretches 2,200 square miles across North Eastern Washington, northern Idaho and southern British Columbia and is home to an estimated 70-80 grizzly bears. In order to maintain this population, we identified priority areas and highest-priority interventions for wildlife conflict mitigation measures and outreach activities, ultimately in support of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife priority action items and measures.

Phase 1 of the project focused on research activities to identify and synthesize existing information with respect to conflict and recreation hotspots and existing mitigation measures. We sought recommendations from key stakeholders (e.g., Defenders of Wildlife, USFWS, U.S. Forest Service) on priority areas of focus for deeper research and/or implementation of a specific mitigation measure. We then identified several potential mitigation projects that were fundable and could be implemented within the EWCL Class 7 time frame.

The identified mitigation efforts included increasing food storage lockers on US Forest Service land, identifying knowledge gaps and perceptions of grizzly bears in the region, and supporting local outreach efforts. Once these specific needs were identified, Phase 2 activities included securing funding from the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Disney Conservation Fund, and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) Information & Education Fund for bear conflict mitigation measures (installing bear-proof food-storage lockers and purchasing bear spray for people in the region) and the public perception survey.

In Phase 3, we designed and developed public awareness ads and stickers to evaluate the effectiveness of messaging among Selkirk Mountain Ecosystem communities. The messaging was designed using the findings of the public perception survey.

Grizzly Bears


    Grant funding secured and spent

    Our group has received a total of $8,250 in funds to support our project efforts from three different grantees: SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, $4,000; IGBC Information & Education Fund, $2,250; and Disney Conservation Fund, $2,000. All funds have been spent on various portions of the project including purchase of food lockers, bear spray, and promotional campaigns and materials.

    Purchase and installation of food storage lockers

    In conjunction with Defenders of Wildlife, the Grizzly team provided $2,650 to install 5 new food storage lockers in Colville National Forest. Food storage lockers minimize interactions between humans and bears by providing a secure location to store human food which cannot be accessed by bears.

    Updated the PlaySmart website

    Our team worked in partnership with Defenders of Wildlife to revise their Play Smart website.  This website is a public-facing landing page that shares information on how humans should act when in bear country. We helped overhaul text on the site and provided input on structure and images related to residents and visitors encountering bears. Key updates included:

    • Revising structure and text of website to make the site more streamlined and aimed towards the target audience (people who recreate in bear country)
    • Incorporating feedback from Defenders’ list of desired updates into the content outline, including transitioning from a focus on grizzlies in the North Cascades to information about grizzlies and black bears across the region
    • Researching and writing section of tips for bear country
    • Adding “Additional Resources” section, as well as “How We Are Defending Bears” section so Defenders can highlight and link to their latest work in the region
    • Making recommendations on website visuals (images, maps, video)

    Attendance at IGBC meeting

    Team members attended the IGBC Selkirk/Cabinet-Yaak  Subcommittee Meeting on October 30, 2017 in Sandpoint, ID. This meeting allowed our team to connect in person with partners we have been working with virtually (e.g. from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Topics discussed included the latest data on local grizzly bear populations, grizzly bear mortalities in the region, current management practices, and the need for human dimension research in region.  While in the region, the team also attended the Hikes, Brews, and Bears event in Snohomish, WA to better understand existing outreach efforts and messaging in the area (right).

    Development and deployment of knowledge/perception survey in the Selkirk Mountain region

    Our EWCL group deployed the survey, People and Wildlife in the Selkirk Mountain Ecosystem, to better understand those residing in, or visiting, the Selkirk Mountain Ecosystem in order to establish a baseline of the public’s knowledge and tolerance of bears in this region, with an emphasis on people who spend recreational, working, or personal time outdoors. These efforts align with the Selkirk/Cabinet-Yaak Subcommittee Review of the IGBC 5-Year Plan, which details the following two objectives:

    1. Increase public awareness of and support for grizzly bear recovery and delisting by identifying knowledge gaps and public concerns about recovery and delisting by 2019.
    2. Reduce human injury and bear mortality related to conflicts by increasing public awareness of expanding grizzly bear distribution and reasonable steps to promote coexistence by 20% over 2018 levels by 2022.

    The survey was targeted towards residents and seasonal visitors in and within 50 miles of the Selkirk Mountain region, and data was collected from February 15 – March 25, 2018. A total of 696 survey responses were collected. Over 85% of the survey respondents self-identified as full-time residents of Pend Oreille, Spokane, and/or Stevens Counties (our 3 target counties).

    Respondents were reached via social media and through digital and print newspaper ads. From the period of February 15 to February 28 Facebook ads (above) were posted that targeted individuals living in the region. Digital ads promoting the survey ran in newspaper outlets that included The Independent, The Spokesman Review, and the Newport Miner.  An additional print ad was included in The Spokesman Review.

    Findings of knowledge/perception survey

    The study found that most residents of the region are aware of the presence of grizzly bears in the region and the recommended measures to take for living and recreating safely among them, but are not necessarily following these measures. Additionally, survey respondents lacked the ability to correctly distinguish black bears from grizzly bears. Survey results indicate that respondents typically do not carry bear spray, although there is evidence showing that bear spray is most effective in deterring bears.

    Other key findings of the study include:

    • Perception of grizzly bears – Of the 551 residents who answered this question, a majority (67%) said they like knowing that grizzly bears are in the area, compared with 10% respondents said they don’t like having grizzly bears in the region, 14% who said they have no opinion, and 9% who said they are unaware there are grizzly bears in the region.
    • Awareness and use of bear spray – While most respondents were aware of bear spray (97%), many do not carry it with them when recreating. We surveyed frequency of carrying for various outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, hunting, etc. Averaged across all activities surveyed, 45% of respondents never carry bear spray, while only 12% carry every time. Camping was the activity for which the greatest number of respondents carry bear spray every time (23%) followed closely by hiking and foraging.
    • Barriers to carrying bear spray – Respondents’ reasons for not carrying bear spray differ, with “It is unnecessary to carry it where I spend time outdoors” being the most frequently selected reason (32%). “I don’t remember to bring it with me” was also frequently cited (20%). A notable number of respondents (76) indicated they carry firearms instead of bear spray as protection.
    • Benefits to carrying bear spray – Respondents who do carry bear spray (24%) cited the following as benefits to this bear deterrent method; “I want to be able to protect myself if needed” (37%), “To be prepared in an emergency” (35%), and “It is part of responsible recreating and/or living in bear country” (35%).
    • Recreating safely in the presence of bears – Respondents noted several different methods to recreate safely in areas where grizzly bears reside. Answers included carrying bear spray (148 mentions), keep clean/proper food and garbage storage (134 mentions), and make noise-including carrying a bell/whistle and avoid surprise (125 mentions).
    • Knowledge of bear ID test – More than 55% of respondents (n=564) did not know about the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s bear identification test. Of those who knew about the test (36%), less than a third have taken it. Similarly, roughly 10% of respondents took a bear identification test in another state.
    • Knowledge of grizzly bear vs. black bear characteristics – When asked to list the key differences between black and grizzly bears, respondents overwhelmingly chose size (352 mentions), followed by aggressiveness, the presence of a shoulder hump, and color.
    • Receiving information about bears – Currently, respondents receive information about online and via brochures/signage, word-of-mouth, newspapers, and magazines. In the future, respondents would like to continue receiving bear information through these outlets, including internet/social media (51%), brochures/signage (42%), and newspapers/magazines (37%).
    • Reported conflicts with bears – 61% of respondents say they do not take steps to prevent conflicts with bears at their residence, even though 25% of respondents said they have had incidents with bears at their home or residence (n=554). Of the scenarios described, bears getting into garbage cans and eating from fruit trees were more frequently mentioned, with 35 and 11 mentions, respectively. When asked what may attract grizzly bears in the future, respondents noted the following; raw meat/scraps, garbage, and barbeque grills.

    Policy change based on findings of knowledge/perception survey

    One immediate outcome of the survey findings was that Defenders of Wildlife shared the survey results at a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in April 2018, where Defenders was encouraging the commissioners to vote in favor of requiring an annual bear identification test for black bear hunters, using the survey findings to advocate for the need. The commission later voted unanimously in favor of requiring a bear identification test for black bear hunters with tags in areas where grizzly bears are likely. This is an important step for grizzly bear conservation as our survey shows that residents lack the ability to tell the difference between a black bear and grizzly bear, which may lead to hunters shooting grizzly bears mistaking them for black bears. Ensuring that all hunters understand the difference between bear species through a bear identification test is one measure towards protecting grizzly bears.

    Bear spray purchase

    To address concerns of people not carrying bear spray we have worked with Counter Assault, a major producer of bear spray, and purchased 80 discounted cans of bear spray and holsters (about 40% off retail pricing) as well as 10 inert cans of bear spray (the inert cans, filled with water, are used during training sessions so that users can become familiar with the usage of the cans). These cans of active and inert spray accompanied another 40 active and 10 inert cans of spray purchased by Defenders of Wildlife.  We provided this bear spray to Defenders to use at local trainings in the region that will include outreach to the local Kalispel tribe on tribal land, a local rotary club and an elementary school as part of their “Safety Week” activities.  The timing of these trainings and deployments were strategic as they corresponded with peak summer and fall outdoor recreation seasons.

    Online marketing campaign for use bear spray

    Based on the success of our Facebook ads for our knowledge survey, we again used Facebook digital ads to connect directly with people in the region. Our initial survey provided us with specific demographic and behavioral information about target communities that are interacting with bears regularly which helped us to craft bear spray messages for this audience.

    The focus of this most recent campaign was to encourage residents to carry bear spray, as we identified this as a top messaging priority in coordination with Defenders. The “Learn More” button on the ads linked to Defenders’ Living in Bear Country webpage (the same page our team helped update earlier in our project) for more information on the proper use of bear spray. We created two versions of the ad—one underscoring personal safety (“Be Bear Prepared”) and another emphasizing bears’ wellbeing (“Save a bear. Carry bear spray.”).

    Overall, ads reached 24,066 people (i.e. appeared in their news feeds), and resulted in 705 click-throughs to the Defenders webpage. The messaging about protecting yourself rather than protecting bears seemed to resonate more with this audience (i.e. received more link clicks) which was why we switched to all ads having the “Be Bear Prepared” messaging partway through the campaign. This information has been provided to Defenders of Wildlife for their consideration in crafting messages for future outreach campaigns.

    Sticker Design

    Through survey findings it was determined that many people living in grizzly bear habitat do not carry bear spray with them. To support our target audience in remembering bear spray, we designed stickers (prompts) that can be distributed in the target region to remind and encourage people to carry bear spray. The design of the stickers is consistent with the look and feel of other Defenders materials, and can be used in Defenders’ in-person outreach with respect to carrying bear spray.

    • Website: Play Smart
    • Digital ads promoting the survey in local newspapers (ads in the Spokesman Review)
    • Additional online marketing visuals and reach via Facebook
    • Defenders of Wildlife – Nina Fascione (Project Advisor)
    • Defenders of Wildlife – Erin Edge, Robb Krehbiel, Russ Talmo
    • US Fish and Wildlife Service – Wayne Kasworm
    • WA Department of Fish and Wildlife – Annemarie Prince
    • Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks – Kim Annis
    • Website: Play Smart
    • Digital ads promoting the survey in local newspapers (ads in the Spokesman Review)
    • Additional online marketing visuals and reach via Facebook

    Grizzly bears are threatened primarily because of interactions with humans. Reducing conflicts between grizzly bears and humans is critical to grizzly bear conservation.

    Here is how you can help protect grizzly bears in North America:

    • If recreating in grizzly bear and/or black bear country, educate yourself on how to react if you come into contact with one or both species. Visit for more info.
    • Always carry bear spray with you when recreating in bear country and understand how to properly use it.
    • Support public lands that grizzly bears call home by visiting state and/or national parks.
    • Properly store all scented items including all food, utensils and toiletries in bear-resistant containers, and keep a clean camp free of food remnants and traces. Smells can attract bears, so keep your attractants in a certified bear-resistant container.