WCS North America

Black bears back in Nevada after 80-year absence!

More than 500 black bears have returned to parts of their historic range in the Great Basin of Nevada where they disappeared about 80 years ago. A new study from WCS, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), and the University of Nevada-Reno using DNA from hair and blood samples found that conservation efforts have resulted in successful re-colonization by black bears.

“The recovery of large carnivores is relatively rare globally," said WCS Rocky Mountain West Wildlife Director and study co-author, Jon Beckmann.

Both black bears and grizzly bears were found in the mountain ranges across most of Nevada, but by the 1930s both species were extirpated from the Great Basin Desert because of removals due to conflicts with livestock ranchers and habitat loss due to clear-cut logging. Black bears are coming back thanks to a reduction in logging and improved forestry practices over the last half-century, combined with conservation efforts by WCS and NDOW over the last 20+ years, including education, increased bear-proofing in communities stemming from WCS’s policy work, and improved human-wildlife co-existence. Learn more about the study here.

Integrating Wildlife and Culture: A New Framework for Conservation

Nestled just south of Glacier National Park in Montana, where the Great Plains first meets the dramatic uplift of the Rocky Mountains, is the Badger-Two Medicine (B2M) area. Encircled by the majestic Glacier National Park, the foothills and prairies of Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and the rugged Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wilderness Areas, the B2M occupies a strategic position in the international landscape known as the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem. 

The B2M is part of the traditional homeland of the Blackfeet Indians, who sold the area to the U.S. government in 1895-96 but reserved certain sovereign rights such as hunting and fishing. Now part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, the Badger-Two Medicine is one of the last, best places for rare and vulnerable fish and wildlife species – including native cutthroat trout, grizzly bear, wolverine, and mountain goat. 

Over the past century, successive generations of citizens and government leaders have worked hard to save the core of this Crown of the Continent ecosystem by establishing world-class parks and wildernesses, coupled with conservation of critical wildlife habitat on state and private lands along the periphery. These collective achievements constitute a great gift, but one important piece remains missing in this remarkable legacy: the Badger-Two Medicine.

Earlier political efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to safeguard the Badger-Two Medicine area through Wilderness designation by Congress did not succeed. But could there by a new and different path? Now is the time to complete the legacy by charting a new path for protection of the Badger-Two Medicine based upon new information, greater mutual understanding and leadership … a path of co-stewardship that integrates the wildlife and cultural values into a vision of vital land, sacred land.


Help plan the future of the Flathead National Forest

There are an impressive 478,754 acres of inventoried roadless areas and many thousand acres with fading roads still remaining on the Flathead National Forest, Montana. These roadless areas present a large-scale opportunity to complete the legacy of conservation first started a century ago in this spectacular and treasured landscape. In 2014, the Wildlife Conservation Society reported that the Flathead National Forest is a nationally-important stronghold ... “one of the last, best places” ... for a range of iconic species that have vanquished or diminished across much of their historic range and ranks as one of the most important National Forests in the entire country for wildlife and wildlands.

The Flathead National Forest has completed the first stages of its Forest Plan revision process, following many of the recommendations for Wilderness and Backcountry in this WCS report. In addition, WCS scientist John Weaver, author of the report, has developed a short commentary, providing rationale and maps for additional areas recommended for protection.  

Help plan the Flathead’s future: read the proposed actions and provide comments here.   

The deadline for public comments is May 15

Are wildlife conservation and suburban development at odds with one another?

They don't have to be, according to WCS scientist and Colorado State University affiliate faculty member Dr. Sarah Reed. One solution is conservation developments, or subdivisions built with the natural environment in mind. "[Conservation developments are] a way to achieve conservation in the context of development that is going to happen anyway," explains Dr. Reed. Conservation developments may preserve wildlife habitat, help maintain ecosystem services, and can act as corridors for wildlife movement between protected areas. At present, conservation developments account for about one quarter of all private land in the U. S. And these subdivisions make economic sense, too - a study published in 2013 by Dr. Reed and her colleagues found that homes in conservation developments sold for 25 to 29 percent higher than comparable homes in other subdivisions. This premium is an incentive for developers considering whether to build traditional or conservation developments.

But how do we know that these developments are truly protecting wildlife? Another of Dr. Reed's studies, published in 2014, found that only 13 percent of conservation developments required the consultation of an ecologist. This is likely because "...conservation biologists hadn't taken i upon themselves to help," according to Dr. Reed. One of Reed's current graduate students, Cooper Farr, is trying to determine which characteristics of design and management are most important for biodiversity conservation. Farr's early results indicate that continuous open space, native vegetation, and surrounding home densities all play a significant role in supporting songbird communities, as well as elk, mule deer, coyotes, and black bears.

Trash and Human-Bear Encounters in Urban Areas

The Reno Gazette-Journal recently highlighted research published in 2003 by WCS scientists Dr. Jon Beckmann and Dr. Joel Berger, who assessed black bear hibernation patterns in both urban and wildland areas near Lake Tahoe. Their results showed that bears living in urban and semi-urban areas - those that had year-round access to trash - changed their hibernating behavior in order to eat the trash. Urban bears entered their dens later and emerged earlier than wildland bears, and became more nocturnal in order to avoid people while trash-raiding. The authors even found some urban bears that never hibernated.

South Reno, Nevada resident Troy Brown can confirm these results. After noticing that his garbage cans were being disturbed at night, Mr. Brown watched footage from a surveillance camera and discovered that the culprits were two black bears. Mr. Brown contacted Mr. Carl Lackey of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, who was able to capture and remove the bears on Christmas Day.


"It's not surprising. It's something that's so reliable, so predictable," explained Dr. Beckmann. By providing bears with additional food sources, we are changing their fundamental behavior and contributing to rising human-bear conflict in suburban areas. The study results, and Mr. Brown's encounter with his nighttime visitors, emphasize the importance of being bear aware and securing trash to discourage bears from foraging. In addition to studying bear responses to human activity, WCS is working throughout the Northern Rockies, particularly in Montana and Idaho, to provide safety tips about living near bears and avoid these types of situations.


A National Celebration of Bison

On Saturday, November 1st, bison-friendly businesses, groups, and individuals around the country celebrated the third annual National Bison day. More than 19 events occurred in at least 15 states to commemorate the historical, economic, ecological, and cultural contributions of bison across the American landscape. The Vote Bison Coalition, comprised of the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, National Bison Association, Wildlife Conservation Society, and more than 50 other organizations, businesses and tribes, supports National Bison Day as a way to celebrate the bison as an American icon.


John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, said, “National Bison Day continues to grow every year as more and more Americans recognize and appreciate bison, which are as unique to our national heritage and identity as baseball, apple pie and the bald eagle. This National Bison Day, I encourage bison supporters across the country to get involved via social media or by visiting a bison herd in person at their local zoo or public herd.”


In addition to attending National Bison Day events, this year the coalition sponsored a social media promotion called Beards for Bison, where supporters were encouraged to snap a photo of themselves wearing a beard (real, or a fake one printed from beardsforbison.org) and post it to social media with the hashtag #beardsforbison.


Click here to learn more about WCS’s bison conservation program. To read about how you can support the Bison Legacy Act, visit the Vote Bison Coalition.


New York Times Article Explores Role of Beaver in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

WCS scientist and Northern Rockies program coordinator Jeff Burrell is quoted in a recent New York Times article exploring the importance of beavers in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the lengths to which conservationists are going to lure the animals back into their native range.


“People realize that if we don’t have a way to store water that’s not so expensive, we’re going to be up a creek, a dry creek,” Mr. Burrell explains. Beaver dams create new habitat for a host of other species by raising the water table alongside a stream, aiding the growth of trees and plants that stabilize the banks and preventing erosion. They also improve fish and wildlife habitat and promote new, rich soil. Most importantly, beaver dams retain water that would otherwise drain away.


Read more about beavers and find out what a “beaver deceiver” is by reading the article.


From the New York Times: Our Highways' Toll on Wildlife

In a recent New York Times op-ed, North America Program Director Amanda Hardy and Associate Conservationist Renee Seidler argue that road collisions with wildlife can and must be reduced by building wildlife over- and under-passes.


Resulting in hundreds of human deaths and billions of dollars in damage each year, collisions between vehicles and wildlife are both dangerous and costly. These accidents occur most frequently in places where wildlife are attempting to cross major highways during their annual migration, and human awareness of wildlife only goes so far.

But, the authors claim, the danger can be reduced. To learn about their suggestions for mitigating these accidents, read the New York Times article.

Eleven Plains Tribes and First Nations Sign Historic Treaty on Bison Restoration

On September 23, dignitaries from 11 U. S. Tribes and Canadian First Nations signed the “Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty” to establish intertribal alliances for restoring the American buffalo on Tribal/First Nations Reserves or co-managed lands.The historic signing, the first of its kind in more than 150 years, brought together members of the Blackfeet Nation, Blood Tribe, Siksika Nationa, Piikani Nation, the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck Indian Reservation, the Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Indian Reservation, and the Tsuu T’ina Nation. Collectively, these Tribes/First Nations own and manage approximately 6.3 million acres of grassland and prairie habitat throughout the United States and Canada.


Through their combined voice and a formal expression of political unity, the goal of the treaty is to achieve ecological restoration of the buffalo on their respective lands, and in doing so to re-affirm and strengthen ties that formed the basis for traditions thousands of years old. Along with agreeing to work together for bison restoration and grassland conservation on tribal lands, the treaty encourages youth education and cultural restoration among the tribes.


“This is an historic moment that we hope will translate into a conservation movement among Great Plains Tribes,” said Keith Aune, Bison Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society, Chair of the IUCN Bison Specialist Group, and American Bison Society Spokesperson.


To learn more about WCS's efforts to conserve the American buffalo, visit our Bison Species pageRead more about the treaty in our press release.

Tackling an Uncertain Future with Climate Scenario Planning

A new publication from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) illustrates that one way to make pro-active decisions in conservation and natural–resource planning today is to consider various scenarios that may unfold tomorrow. Conservation professionals face many challenges due to changes in climate, land use, invasive species, biodiversity, and more. These changes interact in complex ways and can result in unknowns that complicate natural resource decision-making.

To achieve desired conservation and land-use outcomes, tools are needed to cope with these uncertainties.Considering Multiple Futures: Scenario Planning to Address Uncertainty in Natural Resource Conservation, demonstrates that scenario planning is such a tool. The authors, Drs. Erika Rowland Climate Change Ecologist and Molly Cross Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator for the North America Program of WCS, with Holly Hartmann of University of Arizona, Tucson, illustrate that by providing managers with a look at how the future may unfold, and how to respond, scenario planning can inform decision-making in light of uncertainties to better manage risk and maintain flexibility.

Read the report here or visit our research pages to learn about WCS' current Climate Change Conservation Initiatives

Protect Our Boreal Birds

The Adirondack Park is in the southern edge of the range for several species of boreal forest birds within eastern North America. The hauntsof these boreal specialists—cool, wet, sphagnum-draped bogs and swampy woods—are thought to be particularly vulnerable to climate change. A recent Viewpoint opinion editorial by Michale Glennon, the Adirondack Landscape Science Coordinator for WCS, overviews the importance of monitoring ecological systems to understand the health of habitats and the impacts of land use on wildlife conservation in our boreal forests.

Read the full opinion article here.

Learn more about WCS Adirondacks boreal birds conservation research here.

Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Are on the Rebound and Outbound

A recent opinion editorial by Jeff Burrell, WCS' Northern Rockies Program Coordinator, highlights conservation status of Yellowstone's Grizzly population. As the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population has increased, separation between grizzly bear island populations is shrinking and closing the population gap is within reach.

"The Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting debate provides an opportunity to expand our vision for grizzly bear conservation. It is a chance to move beyond restoring separate island populations. Only by integrating and interconnecting protected areas, mixed-use public lands and (by voluntary actions) private lands can we achieve true grizzly bear conservation."

Read the full op-ed by Jeff Burrell.

Learn more about the Yellowstone and Northern Rockies Program wildlife conservation research at WCS.

WCS Applauds Department of the Interior’s 'Bison Report: Looking Forward'

The Department of the Interior released a comprehensive report on bison conservation and management that reaffirms the commitment to collaborate with states, tribes and other partners to promote the restoration of ranging bison on appropriate landscapes. In response, WCS issued a statement of support from Keith Aune, WCS' Bison Program Coordinator, lead spokesperson of the American Bison Society, and Chair of the IUCN Bison Specialist Group for North America:

“WCS, ABS, and the IUCN Bison Specialist Group applaud the bison conservation strategy outlined today by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) in its Bison Report: Looking Forward that calls for restoration of bison to multijurisdictional landscapes. The proposal to restore and manage bison at scales where they can fulfill their ecological role as a keystone herbivore has positive implications for biodiversity, and in particular, for maintaining the ecosystem health of imperiled U.S. grasslands."

Read the full WCS statement of support, the DOI press release and other press on this topic.

Integrating the Human Dimensions of Wildlife Conservation Science

A new publication called "Moving Beyond Science to Protect a Mammalian Migration Corridor," by Joel Berger of WCS and the University of Montana (Missoula) and Steve Cain of Grand Teton National Park (Grand Teton, Wyoming), shows that while science plays a critical role in informing conservation action, scientists must move beyond the realm of their expertise into less familiar areas like public relations, education, and even politics, to ultimately meet America's conservation goals. The paper highlights the  pronghorn migration case study that resulted in the federal designation of Wyoming's Path of the Pronghorn (POP) migration corridor. The mandated protection for the 93-mile route of the POP was established by advocating the scientific evidence of its necessity, as well as the ecological, historical, and cultural relevance of the migration path. The act of engaging the public ultimately lead to the success of the POP, as explained by Dr. Joel Berger in a recent press release: "We chose this project as a case study to show that science alone cannot achieve real world outcomes and that conservation is the provenance of the people."

Learn more about the Path of the Pronghorn.

Protecting and Connecting the Flathead National Forest

A new report “Conservation Legacy on a Flagship Forest: Wildlife and Wild Lands on the Flathead National Forest, Montana,” from WCS Senior Scientist Dr. John Weaver, calls for completing the legacy of Wilderness lands on the Flathead National Forest in Montana. The report identifies important, secure habitats and landscape connections for five species—bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, grizzly bears, wolverines, and mountain goats. These iconic species are vulnerable to loss of secure habitat from industrial land uses and/or climate change. Weaver found that the Flathead is a stronghold for these fish and wildlife species that have been vanquished in much of their range further south. His analysis shows that 90 percent of the Flathead has a “very high” or “high” conservation value for at least one of the five focal species.

Read the recent press release here or access a copy of this report here.

For more information about Dr. Weavers research, please visit: Crown of the Continent.

Bison Gain Support from the Senate to be Declared the National Mammal

In the 1800s, industrial-scale slaughter left fewer than 1,000 bison in the wild. In 1905,the American Bison Society (ABS) was established by WCS in response to the slaughter, to save the species from extinction. ABS activities included the relocation of bison from the wild to the Bronx Zoo in New York. Today, WCS is working to restore free-ranging plains and wood bison at multiple locations across their historical ranges to ensure a future for wild bison. A historical icon of the Great Plains, the American Bison 'takes a first step today toward becoming an official American symbol.'

Learn more about the National Bison Legacy Act and vote in the polls in support of this iconic legislation: Senate to introduce bill to make bison the national mammal.

Learn more about the WCS Bison Conservation Program and Iinnii Initiative collaboration led by Keith Aune, WCS' Conservation Scientist and Bison Program Director.

WCS Scientist Highlighted by American Association of University Women

Heidi Kretser had to go all the way to Nepal to realize that her dream job was back home in New York. She was working at Nepal’s Chitwan National Park when she realized, “Here I was, thousands of miles away from where I grew up. I had this epiphany that I really just wanted to work in a nice place, not a large city, and work in a park … and thought that I can do that in the Adirondacks, living essentially in my hometown.” So she packed her bags, earned her master’s degree in environmental studies from Yale, and began work with the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. At WCS, she started a career focused on the human dimensions of wildlife and conservation management. She currently holds the position of Livelihoods and Conservation Coordinator in WCS’ North American program.In a recent profile of WCS's North America Program's Livelihoods and Conservation Coordinator, Dr. Heidi Kretser, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) spotlights their past fellow and her current work. Read the article by AAUW here: "Backwoods Adventurer, Endangered Cat Defender, Moose Expert"

WCS Contributes to Groundbreaking Guidance on Climate-Smart Conservation

Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice looks at how climate change already is affecting the nation’s wildlife and habitats, and addresses how natural resource managers will need to prepare for and adapt to these unprecedented changes. Developed by a broad collaboration of experts from federal, state, and non-governmental institutions, the guide offers practical steps for crafting conservation actions to enhance the resilience of the natural ecosystems on which wildlife and people depend.

As the scope and scale of climate impacts continue to reveal their impacts on our communities and natural resources, there is a growing recognition of the need to not only address the underlying cause of climate change, by reducing climate-disrupting carbon pollution, but also to prepare for and adjust to our new conditions, known as climate adaptation. Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to adaptation, the guide emphasizes the need to be intentional and deliberate in linking conservation actions to climate impacts.

WCS Scientists Dr. Molly Cross and Erika Rowland were among the experts that contributed to this collection of useful information for conservation practitioners working in a variety of systems across the country.

Read the guide here.