"Here's the plan." Joan spread a topographical map on the table in front of Anna, then leaned over her shoulder to point. She, too, stank to high heaven. It was good to be a member of a group.
"We've gridded the park into cells eight kilometers on a side," Joan said as she dropped a transparent plastic overlay on the topographical map, aligning it with coordinates she carried in her head. "Each cell is numbered. In every square-every cell-we've put a hair trap. This is not to trap the bear in toto but merely designed to ensure visiting bears leave behind samples of their hair for the study. Traps are located, near as we can make them, on the natural travel routes of the bears: mountain passes, the confluence of avalanche chutes, that sort of thing. So we're talking some serious off-trail hiking here, bushwhacking at its whackingest. These asterisks," she poked a blunt brown forefinger at marks made by felt marker on the overlay, "are where the last round of traps are located. They've been in place two weeks. The three of us will take five of the cells: numbers three-thirty-one, twenty-three, fifty-two, fifty-three and sixty-four. Here, on the central and west side of Flattop Mountain. What we'll be doing is going into the old traps, collecting the hair, dismantling the traps and setting them up in the new locations, here." She put another plastic overlay on top of the first, and a second set of asterisks appeared. "Or as close to these respective 'heres' as we can get. Mapping locations out on paper in the cozy confines of the office has very little relationship to where you can actually put them when you get out into the rocky, cliffy, shrubby old backcountry.
"Once the trap wire is strung, we pour the elixir of the gods - that's this blood-and-fish-guts perfume you are pretending not to notice on us, Rory - into our new trap and leave for another couple of weeks. While wandering around up there we'll also cover the Flattop Mountain Trail from below Fifty Mountain Camp to the middle of the Waterton Valley and the West Flattop Mountain Trail from the continental divide to Dixon Glacier. Bears are like us: they like to take the easy way when they can. So we've located and marked a number of trees along the trail system that they are particularly fond of scratching their backs on. We'll collect hair samples from these, as well as any samples of scat we happen across."
The lecture was for Rory. Anna had heard it before when Joan and her boss, Kate, explained the daunting task of data gathering for the DNA project, the inspiration of Kate Kendall, a researcher working jointly with the USGS - the United States Geographical Survey - and the NPS. From the hair and scat collected, the DNA of individual bears would be extracted. Modern techniques used by the lab at the University of Idaho would establish gender, species and individual identification of the animals sampled. With this information, it was hoped an accurate census of the bears could be established, as well as population trends, travel routes and patterns. This trapping system had been designed to give every single bear at Glacier an opportunity to be counted.
"We'll be out five days," Joan finished. "Leaving tomorrow at the crack of dawn."
No one spoke for a moment, the three of them gazing at the map as if at any moment it would begin to divulge its secrets.
"Hey," Joan said, breaking the silence. "Maybe we'll see your folks, Rory."
The young man whuffed, a small expulsion of air through the nostrils that spoke volumes, none of them good, about how he viewed the proximity of his parents. Anna looked at him from the corner of her eye. Down was gone from his cheek, recently replaced by a beard so fair it glistened rather than shadowed at the end of the day. He was seventeen or eighteen at a guess. Very possibly on his first great away-from-home adventure. And Mom and Dad found a way to horn in.
Reprinted from Blood Lure by Nevada Barr by permission of Putnam Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 Nevada Barr. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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