Here’s the thing about huckleberries: everyone loves ‘em.
Grizzly bears, especially, love huckleberries. They don’t only love them, they depend on the berry’s high sugar content to help them gorge during the summer in preparation for winter. That’s why it’s so important to protect them.
Researchers at the University of Washington noticed that, due to climate change, huckleberries may end up moving around a bit, growing where conditions are most favorable. With only 1,500 or so grizzlies left in the lower 48 states, conservation efforts often involve protecting specific areas where grizzlies like to hang out. And grizzlies like to hang out where the huckleberries are. In other words: find the berries, find the bears.
The researchers used available satellite imagery, which is available in pretty startling detail, and trained software to pick out huckleberry bushes. How, you might ask, can you pick out any of the small, ordinary-looking bushes that combine to make up the several species of huckleberry? Well, one thing huckleberries do that’s a bit unusual is that in the fall, their leaves turn bright, searing red, as pictured above.
So the new software is trained to zero in on bright red bushes—which enables anyone studying the bears to understand where they are, how they feed, and, hopefully, enables better protection for the bears. Luckily, the early results of the software show that most huckleberries in Glacier National Park—home to a couple hundred grizzlies—grow away from hiking trails, which should allow the bears to graze in peace.