My Workspace: The Bear Center

Master’s student Jamie Gehring, lab assistant Brandon Hutzenbiler, and Washington State University Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center director Charlie Robbins interact with the grizzly bear cubs they are hand raising.

Working with grizzlies at Washington State

written by Lindsay McWilliams | photography by Dean Hare

Not many universities have eleven grizzly bears living on campus. Washington State University is an exception. On the east side of campus, across from the WSU Arboretum, is the Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center, a 2-acre facility where educational research is conducted on the North American brown bears.

The Bear Center conducts research on captive grizzly bears for university, state and federal biologists, as well as conservation groups. Its research involves hibernation and metabolism, obesity and diabetes.

Brandon Hutzenbiler, manager of the Bear Center, works hands-on with the 300- to 600-pound animals on a daily basis.

Grizzlies here come from all walks of life—some were born in the Center, others brought in from the wild of Yellowstone after being deemed “nuisance bears” for entering campsites or disturbing human areas. While many of the bears are trained to interact with their caretakers using hand signals, Huztenbiler makes it clear to his volunteers never to forget the type of animal they’re working with. “These bears are in captivity, but they are by no means domesticated,” he said.

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