Bears chill out, research center heats up expansion

Pullman grizzly bears were served giant ice cubes and fruit-flavored ice pops last weekend in an attempt to help beat record heat levels.

Adult grizzlies and cubs alike have been taking plunges in a steel pool, laying on the giant ice cubes, and devouring the ice-pops during a mini-staycation of their own.

There are 13 bears in six cells.

That is how the current Washington State University Bear Research Education and Conservation Center is structured. The current WSU Bear Center has six dens and one playing yard for the 13 grizzly bears it houses.

Two years ago, Charles Robbins, the director of the WSU Bear Center, thought that building a newer, larger bear research facility was not feasible anytime soon due to lack of funding.

Today, the WSU Bear Research, Conservation, and Education Center has a proposal to construct a National Bear Center along Grimes Way. This National Bear Center would not only provide a more suitable home for a growing population of rescued bears, but also the appropriate technology, facilities and resources to continue their research.

The National Bear Center would assist in modern bear research by providing adequate facilities. 

Presently, the WSU Bear Center focuses on research related to the physiology, ecology and ethology of grizzly bears. While the ecological studies help researchers understand bear conservation, the physiological studies performed on WSU captive bears can enhance researchers’ knowledge of the human body.

For example, learning more about bear hibernation could lead us to discover treatments for osteoporosis. Studies on hibernating bears also demonstrate how the human heart can adapt to stressful conditions and how muscles can remain strong during inactivity.

According to the WSU School of Environment’s website, the new center will consist of two buildings. One building will be dedicated to accommodating the needs of the bears and researchers with medical facilities, a kitchen, a video control room, 18 dens, outside runs, and three 3-acre yards of open space, pools and trees.

The second building will include offices, restrooms, classrooms, and various research laboratories.

It is estimated that the National Bear Center will cost approximately $15 million to construct.

Along with benefitting bears and people, the National Bear Center will also benefit the University and researchers and enhance public education.

Jamie Gehring, a WSU zoology graduate student, believes that the National Bear Center would provide more renowned recognition and status to WSU and would allow for more interactive classes.

“The National Bear Center will benefit the University by attracting potentially tens of thousands of visitors each year, including researchers hailing from across the globe. The new facility would be large enough to accommodate more students, potentially allowing classes to be taught on location,” she said.

In regards to public education, Gehring said, “The general public will benefit from the greatly expanded educational capabilities of the new facility. Visitors would be able to view the bears and learn about current research, recent discoveries, and the importance of conservation. The new Bear Center will also participate in rescue and rehabilitation efforts.”

Even though there is a proposal for a new facility, there is no established date for the construction of the National Bear Center.

Like every grant proposal, funding is necessary. And as of right now, the Bear Center lacks funding.

Robbins hoped people would see the need for the program and help create it.

As Robbins said two years ago, “Hopefully, everyone recognizes that there are other living organisms out there. And the world doesn’t necessarily have to be centered on people. All animals including bears have been around for 15 million years and deserve a place to live.”    

If you would like to make a donation to the Bear Center, you can visit their homepage and click on the “Donate” link.