Researchers studying how the Inuvik-Tuk highway is affecting wildlife have come up with an added bonus: footage of some pretty cute grizzly bears frolicking around.
The photos were taken by motion-activated wildlife cameras during a study of bear movements before and after the highway connecting Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk opened.
Faye d'Eon-Eggertson, a territorial wildlife biologist, said a team put out scratching posts with lure – "smelly stuff," she said – to attract the bears, who then enjoyed rolling around in the substance.
While the bears relaxed on the scratching posts, tufts of their hair were caught on the posts. Biologists could then gather the hair and analyze the DNA to better understand how many different bears are in the area, and where individual bears travel.
There are 101 scratching posts available in the region.
"Bears aren't easy to distinguish from things like photos. They don't have an individual marking pattern," d'Eon-Eggertson said, explaining the importance of the posts.
What the biologists learn this summer and next year will be compared to studies from 2013 and 2014, before the highway opened. From the available data, d'Eon-Eggertson estimates there are around 10 bears per 1,000 square kilometres (an area roughly the size of Calgary).
In general, d'Eon-Eggertson said, biologists expect bears to avoid areas of "human disturbance" like a highway. However, if people litter along the road, bears may be attracted.
"That puts them in danger of getting hit by vehicles or habituated to humans or other things. We really want to keep these bears wild and staying away from humans," she said.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is studying bears among a range of wildlife – including caribou, wolverine, and wolves – to understand how the road is changing their movements, if at all.
Researchers will use caribou collar data alongside harvest data for bears, wolves, and wolverines. Other groups are studying the effects on aquatic life and fish.