IFW biologists capture, collar bears to augment 40-year study
Augusta — Bear biologists recently wrapped up another successful spring capture season as part of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s long-term bear research and management program.
State bear biologist Randy Cross led a team of five biologists for a total of 43 days in Washington County in May and June, which captured 66 different bears 92 times, and placed radio collars on 16 females.
The trapping effort is an essential part of the department’s black bear management program. Capturing and radio-collaring black bears allows IFW’s biologists to collect information on birth and death rates to ensure a healthy population of black bears in Maine.
On average, it took 39 trapping nights to capture a bear. A trap night is defined as a single trap being set for 24 hours. The IFW capture team used cable-foot restraints and culvert traps at 88 sites over a six-week period, for a total of 3,577 trap-nights.
The traps biologists use are the same as those used by the public during the bear trapping season, and are the only legal bear trapping devices allowed in Maine.
Cross, who has worked on IF&W’s bear project for 32 years and is widely regarded as having live-captured more black bears than anyone in North America, noted that the cool, wet weather in the spring reduced the vulnerability of bears to trapping.
“Wet weather results in an abundance of natural food for bears, which makes them less interested in the bait we use to lure bears into trapping locations,” said Cross. “We see this same pattern with harvest by hunters in the fall, where the bear harvest goes down in years when natural foods are widely available.
“People often assume that luring bears with bait is easy, but the fact is that the vast majority of hunters (about 75 percent) using bait are actually unsuccessful. We face the same challenge in our research program. We worked very hard this year and it still took us nearly 40 trap-nights to capture each bear.”
Despite the uncooperative weather, the team handled 66 bears, totaling a combined weight of 10,890 pounds of bear. This year, bears ranged in weight from a 12-pound cub to an 11 year-old male weighing 432 pounds.
The majority of the bears captured weighed under 100 pounds. Each bear was anesthetized, measured, checked for reproductive status, tattooed with an identifying number beneath their lip, and released unharmed.
“Many people have the impression that the devices used to trap bears by our research team and by the general public are inhumane,” said Judy Camuso, the department’s wildlife division director. “In fact, these devices are considered safe and humane by scientific and animal care committees across the country. There is a perception that the old-fashioned steel-jawed bear traps are used, but they have been illegal in Maine for years.”
Of the 16 female bears that were radio-collared this spring, eight were new to the study and will join the department’s 40-year bear monitoring effort, which is the longest running bear research program in the country.
Each of the bears, as well as about 100 others already collared in three study areas across the state, will be visited in their dens this winter. The department tracks between 79 and 100 radio-collared black bears annually, and generally inspects over 80 bear dens each winter. The den visits also provide biologists with crucial information on Maine’s black bears including birth rates, survival, behavior, and bear health and nutrition.
MDIFW’s bear monitoring effort occurs in three study areas. This year’s biologists trapped the Downeast region of the state. Other study areas include an area in the north Maine woods, and one area in the central Piscataquis County. The three areas are representative of bear habitat throughout the state.
The MDIFW began the bear study in 1975, and since that time, more than 3,000 bears have been captured and marked.
Maine is fortunate to have the largest bear population in the eastern United States, while experiencing relatively few conflicts, biologists said. The state’s successful bear management program has ensured that this resource continues to thrive, while also protecting property and public safety, reports the MDIFW.
By monitoring Maine’s bear population closely, the department can adjust rules and regulations concerning the bear hunting season to that harvests are sustainable and that the number of bears is kept in balance with available habitat.
The black bear population throughout the United States is on the rise. Maine’s bear population has risen from 23,000 bears in 2004 to more than 30,000 bears currently. Maine has the largest bear population in the east and one of the largest in the United States.
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