Secret Grizzly Bear Feeding Site Discovered

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A secret feeding site that draws dozens of grizzly bears has been identified along a Canadian river where salmon spawn.

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Finding the feeding site for the grizzly bears and the "highways" they take to get to it could help policymakers ban trophy hunting in the region. The resulting protection could allow dwindling grizzly populations to rebound.

"Our hope is for grizzly bears to start returning to their historic range," said study co-author said Chris Filardi, director of Pacific programs at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. [7 Iconic Animals That Humans Are Hunting to Extinction]

The Heiltsuk people, a coastal First Nations people in British Columbia, have long known that grizzlies congregate along the Koeye (pronounced "kway") River.

"We have this traditional knowledge that has existed amongst our people for thousands of years now," said study lead author William Housty, the director of Coastwatch, a scientific initiative led by the Heiltsuk to manage resources and conservation in their territory.

To the Heiltsuk, the bear is a symbol of strength and authority, to be treated with respect.

"We look at it as though we're on their territory," Housty told Live Science, referring to the grizzly bears. "So we keep our distance, we give them their space."

But Canadian laws don't dictate that everyone leaves the bears alone: Grizzly hunting is still allowed in the region, Housty said.

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To better protect the bear population, the Heiltsuk teamed up with scientists from the American Natural History Museum and the Nature Conservancy to create a bear census.

Grizzly bears are incredibly driven to investigate new and interesting smells, Filardi said.

"They're like big, thousand-pound noses wandering around," Filardi told Live Science.

So Housty and two other Heiltsuk researchers laced barbed-wire lures with a pungent scent such as skunk musk, and strategically placed them on trees and other spots that bears like to rub against.

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