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Ecologist wins top federal honor for bear research

Ecologist wins top federal honor for bear research

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Previously, bear DNA project had resulted in awards from the Forest Service and the National Park Service

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK - Federal officials have caught a whiff of Kate Kendall's ever-growing collection of bear hair and grizzly poop, and they have awarded the scientist top honors for her high-tech work studying the big bears in and around Glacier National Park.

Kendall, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, has been studying bears in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks for nearly 25 years, keying on both the habitat and food sources of the big bruins. In recent years, she has been snaring hair and gathering bear scat for DNA analysis, hoping the results will, among other things, offer a minimum bear population count for the Glacier Park region.

Wednesday, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it was honoring Kendall with the Superior Service Award for her work with the grizzlies. Citing her "outstanding leadership and more than 20 years of research," Interior officials said her work has resulted in a nationally recognized program that has helped scientists better understand the world of bears.

Previously, Kendall's bear DNA project had resulted in awards from the Forest Service and the National Park Service, but this is the first time her direct superiors have recognized her efforts.

"This is a big deal," Kendall said. "It means a lot to me, because I had received these other awards, but I had never received anything from my own agency."

Kendall believes she was chosen for the award because she not only created the bear DNA project, but she also forged a multiagency coalition fed by volunteer labor and both public and private grants to make it a regionwide reality. By bringing several agencies to the table, she said, she was able to expand the study beyond Glacier's boundaries to include much of the northern Continental Divide ecosystem.

"USGS is bringing interdisciplinary, collaborative efforts like this one to bear on the problems affecting America's natural heritage," said agency director Charles Groat. "In addition to using innovative methods and state-of-the-art technologies, Kendall's studies span entire ecosystems and are cooperative efforts involving multiple agencies and scientists."

Her study involves nine federal, state and tribal agencies and spans 2 million acres.

During the 1998 collection season, Kendall's crews brought back well over 10,000 hair samples and more than 3,000 piles of scat, far more than anyone predicted. The bounty strained financial resources, and DNA analysis was slowed initially while Kendall scrambled to find money to pay the DNA lab.

Now, with about one-third of the hair samples analyzed, Kendall hopes to have the final results in by year's end, offering for the first time a minimum count of grizzlies in Glacier Park.

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