Donna’s Family Break-up? – UPDATE May 27, 2012
Today we attempted to catch up on office work that is so easy to ‘let go’ when we get busy. The GPS locations are only stored online for 30 days so we have to download, label, and file them on a regular basis—well before they get deleted. Bills, bank statements, emails, diaries—office work is endless.
While working on our computers, we keep pretty close tabs on the research bears via a webpage that displays their GPS locations. We’ve learned to interpret patterns of locations that indicate foraging, resting, and traveling directly without foraging. We take notice when locations don’t fit a usual pattern. Yesterday we noticed just such a change in Donna’s GPS readings—fast jerky movements that doubled back on themselves. We suspected family break-up was taking place.
Donna’s subsequent movements yesterday seemed to confirm our suspicions. She began traveling outside her territory—through what we believe is Jewel’s territory and then into a portion of June’s. Today she was back in her territory and seemed to be bedded, so we tried to see if she was with a male. Donna is not easily approached in the woods, and we never glimpsed her. She is now in a remote roadless area.
With a downpour this morning and a low ceiling later, we weren’t able to fly to search for Sharon’s signal. Hopefully the weather will improve by tomorrow.
Spring is a busy time for these bears with family break-up, courtship, and mating. The mature females are also roaming far and wide, laying down scent trails, tracking down mates, and—perhaps most importantly—searching out available territory. With so many families with yearlings this year, we expect to see some shifts in female territories as mothers accommodate their independent offspring.
We started seeing Lily put pressure on June last year and that pressure is continuing this year. Just yesterday, their GPS readings showed they were working out boundary issues as Lily makes room for Faith and June makes room for Aster and (possibly) Aspen. June’s territory is becoming crowded with overlapping ranges of daughters (Lily, Jewel, and soon Aster) and granddaughter (Faith) all vying for their own territories. Aspen will likely also linger in June’s territory before he disperses from the study area.
The usual reaction by a mother is to give up land to her daughters and do her best to find adjacent vacant land or steal territory from a neighbor. June is being pushed toward Bear Head Lake State Park where she is not welcomed with open arms. Although many people feel State Parks are for wildlife, too, the DNR expressed concern when June spent several hours foraging on vegetation along the road leading into the park on May 22. In the beautiful mature forest of the State Park, there are few forest openings for grazing. The main ‘forest openings’ in the State Park are the shoulders of Bear Head State Park Road and the wide Taconite Trail which is covered with grass and other vegetation.
At this moment, June is foraging outside the State Park in the clover patch—the one we referred to as the ‘contested clover patch’ last year. The patch is huge so perhaps she and Lily can work out a time-share agreement. Aster and Aspen were with June last night at 9 PM and we presume they still are. No sign yet of Big Harry.
Another video of Jewel and cubs from May 17 is posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Nvy2LWHCaU.
Thank you for all you do.
—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center