Tabitha Graves research on huckleberries in West Glacier has reveals some interesting facts:
Glacier Park researcher hopeful that huckleberry-monitoring project will help predict bear activity
WEST GLACIER – For Tabitha Graves, the ability to presage a bumper crop of huckleberries – or, conversely, a dearth of the delicious fruit – carries far greater implications than merely filling up jam jars or homing in on a secret picking patch.
Graves, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Glacier National Park, is in the second year of a pilot program aimed at tracking the timing and productivity of huckleberry patches, which this sultry summer are bearing little fruit at lower elevations.
She won’t hazard a guess about the overall upshot of this season’s crop, though of the five monitoring sites she’s able to compare to last year’s data, only one is on par with the previous summer, which sprayed a veritable star-scape of the dark-red berries throughout the forests that hug the Continental Divide.
Wild huckleberries grow in droves on both sides of the Continental Divide, their tart flavor sought out by humans and grizzly bears alike. And while visitors to Glacier can pick one quart of huckleberries per person per day for personal consumption only (Waterton Lakes National Park only allows hand-to-mouth picking) grizzlies and black bears eat pounds of them in a single sitting.
Last summer was a good year to be a berry-eating bear, particularly as research has shown that 15 percent of a bear’s diet is made up of huckleberries, a fun fact gleaned from a not-so-fun research study – scat analysis.
The berries provide essential nutrients for bears, and if you’ve ever hiked trails lined with huckleberry bushes in Glacier Park, you have probably stepped over piles of berry-loaded bear scat…
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