Black bears are being killed in record numbers in California, new data shows, as wildfires force them towards busy roads in search of food.
Researchers at the California Department of Transportation and the Road Ecology Centre have been monitoring a 108-mile stretch of highway in the Eastern Sierra and found that pregnant females in particular are facing extreme difficulties.
“Since record-keeping of bear collisions began in 2002, we have not had a significant peak of collisions as we did in 2021,” said Katie Rodriguez, a biologist who worked on the project.
In 2019, four bears were reported killed along the highway, and in 2020, no dead bears were found.
But last year, 13 bears were struck and killed by vehicles – the majority in September and October – when the animals search for food, in order to fatten up before hibernation.
Scientists have pointed to fierce wildfires that raged in the area at the end of summer, including the Dixie fire, California’s largest ever, which decimated 963,000 acres.
With the ground scorched, bears had to travel further to find food.
“I can’t think of a worse situation for wildlife — bears running for their lives from fire and then getting whacked by cars,” Fraser Shilling, director of the Road Ecology Centre at UC Davis told the LA Times.
“It’s a biological tragedy compounded by the fact that humans are responsible for the climate changes that set the stage for these increasingly immense and deadly wildfires.”
There are further concerns for wildlife much further north, in Montana, where a record number of wolves have been killed by hunters, following a change in the law.
Twenty of Yellowstone National Park’s renowned grey wolves roamed from the park and were shot by hunters in recent months – the most killed by hunting in a single season since the predators were reintroduced to the region more than 25 years ago, according to park officials.
Fifteen wolves were shot after roaming across the park’s northern border into Montana, according to figures released to The Associated Press. Five more died in Idaho and Wyoming.
Park officials said in a statement that the deaths mark “a significant setback for the species’ long-term viability and for wolf research.”
One pack – the Phantom Lake Pack – is now considered “eliminated” after most or all of its members were killed over a two-month span beginning in October, according to the park.
An estimated 94 wolves remain in Yellowstone. But with months to go in Montana’s hunting season, and wolf trapping season just getting underway, park officials said they expect more wolves to die after roaming from Yellowstone, where hunting is prohibited.
Urged by Republican lawmakers, Montana wildlife officials last year loosened hunting and trapping rules for wolves across the state. They also eliminated long standing wolf quota limits in areas bordering the park.
Now, campaigners want to see those limits return.