September 29, 2008

For Bears, It’s Like Fish in a Barrel — Research in Smokies Suffers Odd Setback

GATLINBURG, Tenn. - Curious bears fattening up for winter craftily took part in a project to reintroduce native Southern Appalachian brook trout into streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Despite the interference, biologists completed the first phase of the planned reintroduction of the brook trout into several streams in the Tremont area of the park.

From Sept. 7 to 19, the park closed an 8-mile segment of streams to poison nonnative fish. But bears tore into the baskets of fish being used to test whether the poison was effective.

"Bears figured out right away there was fish in the baskets. There is no hazard to the bears eating the fish, but they tore up a lot of sampling baskets. The highlight of the week was working in competition with the bears to protect the baskets," said Bob Miller, park spokesman.

The affected streams were closed to all water-related recreation during the treatment. They will remain closed to fishing for several years during the recovery process so brook trout populations can thrive without fishing pressure. Once the population has stabilized, the stream will be opened to recreational fishing.

Matt Kulp, park fisheries biologist, said part of the challenge of working in the park is adapting to the challenges thrown out by Mother Nature.

"We found out the bears are curious," Kulp said.

"Right now, they're after everything in the park because they're hungry going into the fall. Once they found one of those baskets, they started looking for all of them ... It's part of doing business in a national park in the wilderness.

"We became a little more creative in hiding those cages from the bears, sinking them in the river and camouflaging them and stuff. They still figured us out."

About 1,000 native brook trout will eventually be collected from streams across the park and released in the renovated streams. The reintroduced brook trout population will be monitored annually.

Originally published by Associated Press .

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