Researchers make bears run on treadmills

I’ve seen some pretty weird things done in the name of science, but this one might be among the weirdest yet. I was scrolling through emails this weekend and came across a video of a grizzly bear on a treadmill.

As I was going through my emails on Sunday, one message caught my attention. The preview showed a video of a grizzly bear running on a treadmill. That video did what it was intended to do – it got me to read the rest of the email.

It turns out scientists from Washington State University are studying the eating and movement habits of bears in an effort to minimize confrontations between bears and humans. Making bears run on treadmills is one of the components of that study. It seems to me that this might actually increase tension between bears and people – If I were a bear, and some human forced me to run on a treadmill, I’m pretty sure I’d eat the next person I came across.

The treadmill is only part of the research, though. They’re also watching bears in the wild and noting their movements and activities in their natural habitat. And what they’re finding is that both bears and humans tend to take the easiest route possible whenever they can. That seems a little obvious, and it makes me wonder if all this work was really necessary. Especially the stuff with the treadmill.

But the conclusion is the important part. Because both bears and people try to avoid the steeper trails, dense woods filled with deadfall, and other obstacles that make a long walk more difficult, both species seek out the easiest paths possible through the backcountry. That leads to confrontations, because the bears and the people wind up using the same paths.

So if you’re hoping to avoid running into a bear on your hikes this summer, take the more difficult trail. Go up the steep mountainside, instead of the shallow incline around. Maybe. On the other hand, bears are wild animals. Even treadmill studies won’t tell us where they’ll be at any given moment.