WASHINGTON

The mystery of how many grizzly bears inhabit Washington's rugged North Cascade Mountains may soon be solved with some help from man’s best friend.

David Wasser, a zoology professor at the University of Washington, is using four dogs to sniff out bear scat; Wasser says they can smell it from up to a half-mile away. The scat's DNA will be analyzed to find out whether it came from a grizzly or a black bear, a male or a female - and will provide even the animal's individual identification.

Biologists have long known that a remnant population of grizzly bears inhabits the 10,000-square-mile grizzly bear recovery area. But they have been unsure of the size of that population, and whether it will need reintroduced bears to fully recover. Wasser's research holds promise for answering those questions.

"We're excited," says Bill Gaines, the wildlife biologist for the Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forests. "If (Wasser's) new methodology works out, we will get irrefutable evidence if there is a viable grizzly bear population out there."

This summer's research, paid for by the National Park Service, may lead to new ways of managing grizzly bear habitat; biologists expect to use it in a future environmental impact statement.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and John Rosapepe