7-12, Unit Two, Activity 3: "It's Not Easy Being Grizz"
This is an outdoor game illustrating: the seasonal food availability sequence for grizzly bears; the effects of whitebark pine decline; and the grizzly bear's relationship with squirrels.
Grades: 7 – 12
The foods you will eat, in order from spring to late fall, are (1) carrion from winter-kill, (2) grasses, sedges, new leaves and newborn fawns or calves, (3) glacier lilies, ground squirrels and marmots, (4) cutworm moths under rocks in the high alpine zone, (5) ladybugs, (6) huckleberries, and (7) whitebark pine nuts.
Grizzlies use their long claws for a number of things including: to dig up roots and burrowing animals, and to remove pine nuts from cones. Grizzlies also have sensitive and flexible lips and tongues for eating bugs, and the “hump” on their backs is a huge shoulder muscle for digging and turning over rocks.
Whitebark pine is especially important to them for three reasons. The season when pine nuts are ripe is long (August to October), the nuts inside whitebark cones are high in calories, and pine nuts are the last natural food of the season – ready just before bears hibernate. Whitebark pines are also located high in the subalpine zone, just below treeline, near where the grizzlies dig their dens. Red squirrels are an important player in the grizzly’s whitebark pine diet. Squirrels bury the cones close together in “middens” of one to thirty square yards (meters). Sometimes a single squirrel will bury 800,000 cones in a single year! Obviously, this concentrated source of food is a “gold mine” for a bear. Research results about bears and inter-relationships with whitebark pines.
When grizzlies aren’t around, black bears climb whitebark pine trees for cones, and eat the seeds in the tree. Black bears sometimes lose all the hair from their chests and inside front legs because the pitch on the tree trunk pulls it out.
Cutworm moths spend much of the year out on the great plains, but they migrate by the millions to alpine areas to escape the heat of the summer. They hide under rocks in talus slopes. Bears turn over hundreds of rocks to find them, because the moths are high in fat and protein. Ladybugs come to the alpine in September to hibernate, also by the millions. Grizzlies find them by the bucket–load on the north and east slopes above treeline. The ladybugs hibernate on those slopes because insulating snow is deepest there.
2. Each color of the paper squares represents a different seasonal food source for bears. There should be 12 squares of each color for each student “bear”. Here is an example of how the paper squares would be divided and marked, keeping in mind that you can change the colors to suit your preferences:
The “dots” represent calories, and are the only squares that will be gathered by the bears. They must forage trough the other squares, picking them up and re-placing them, until they find those with dots on the back side.
Have 3 or 4 students be “humans”, who stay in the center 50-foot circle. Their job is to protect the apples, garbage, dog food, cattle and sheep from being “stolen” by the bears.
The rest of the class will be grizzlies. Have them begin in “hibernation”. Tell them they will be given 30 seconds for each month. Their job is to forage through the squares and collect the squares with dots. They may go anywhere inside the inner circle, but outside they must stay in the proper month for the 30 seconds. If they are tagged by a human in the inner circle, they must give up one of their “dot” cards (the effects of capture and relocation). If they are tagged a second time, they are a “repeat offender” and will be considered dead.
Time them, 30 seconds per month, through the year into hibernation. There they will count their dots. If they have 15 dots or more, they made it into hibernation in fine shape. If they have 12 to 14, they made it, barely. Less than 12, they will never wake up…
Your objective is to set up the game so a few bears do not survive. This is the way it happens every year. In the unlikely event that all of your “bears” survived, simply say it was a great year for bears.
Do some grizzly bears die every year? How would you define a stable population? Can poor nutrition affect reproduction as well as mortality?
Will the whitebark pine demise change your survival strategy? How? Will knowing how many dots you need affect your risk-taking in the human-populated area?
Choose new “humans” to occupy the center circle. Play the game again. Compare results with game one.
What was the critical time of the year for most of you? Why were the cattle and sheep in the most difficult area to raid?
Are people now living in huckleberry areas? With the absence of whitebark pines, is the huckleberry area especially critical now? How important is it to have a large bear sanctuary area like the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park?
Game 4 and 5:
Variations and Extensions:
Did You Know?
Did you know that once Beargrass blooms and then dies, a new stalk will bloom 5-10 years after that?