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Grizzly habitat analysis unfolding

RWED seeks clues to seismic impact

John Barker
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Sep 02/02) - John Nagy, a biologist with the Department of Renewable Resources and Economic Development (RWED) in Inuvik, put global positioning system collars around six grizzly bears last fall, hoping to be able to retrieve the data via satellite in the comfort of his office at his computer work station.

But that would have been too simple when it comes to grizzly bears.

The data have been collected but Nagy hasn't been able to access them remotely. So it's into the field to download the data from the grizzly bears.

Or at least five of them. "One of the grizzlies removed his collar," Nagy said. RWED knows where the collar is, however, and will retrieve it.

The work is part of a two-year study by RWED in co-operation with seismic companies doing work in the Mackenzie Delta. Biologists want to see how seismic activities may have affected their hibernation. Some of the bears denned last winter near seismic exploration sites while others hibernated away from the activity. The collars keep track of the bear's body temperature and activity.

Grizzly bears can weigh up to almost 700 kilograms and can stand three metres tall.

Nagy said the GPS collar, as well as giving a precise location, has separate sensors that monitor the bears' activity and the ambient temperature of the whatever area its in.

Typically, he said a hibernating bear in its den is in an environment where the temperature is about 0 C -- the freezing point.

"We know they didn't come out of their dens during the (seismic) activity period (last winter), but it doesn't say they weren't active or that their normal activity in the dens wasn't affected," Nagy said.

The bears will continue to wear the collars for another year and a half, and Nagy says he's hoping to collar another four bears.

In another portion of the experiment, Nagy's group dug an artificial den at Richards Island, near "vibroseis" work, which involves heavy equipment pounding the ground, instead of dynamite. The den was rigged with motion and sound detectors inside and outside to monitor vibration and sound levels.

Data from those sensors were analyzed by RWDI West Inc., of Calgary, which specializes in noise and vibration issues.

Nagy said RWDI West has completed a 30-page report on the artificial den at Richards Island and he expects the information will ready to be released publicly by mid-September.