Losing Hope

Hope heart_-_20110922We are still waiting for information from the Department of Natural Resources about any young females that might have been registered from this area.  Meanwhile, we heard back from a hunter who began baiting in this area shortly before Hope disappeared.  We know this hunter would not shoot a radio-collared bear.  He wrote that he passed up Jo and her cub and Ursula and her two cubs—bears whose GPS locations showed them at his bait—but he didn’t mention Lily or say whether or not he had killed Hope. 

We had checked his bait site earlier in the season and it wasn’t being used.  On the 15th, we began to see Jo, Ursula, Lily and their families frequenting the area.  When we drove by the site on September 16, we found fresh signs of baiting—a well-used trail leading to the bait site.  We couldn’t walk in to check more closely because that could be construed as hunter harassment.  We hoped for the best.  Hope shortly went missing. 

Lilys bedsite_-_20110922Lily's bedsite near large white pine -- log in foreground torn open for grubsYesterday, we downloaded Lily’s GPS locations for that time period and retraced Lily’s steps to look for clues.  We found a well-used bedsite only 140 yards from the hunter’s bait site. 

We know from walking with bears at this time of year that it’s not unusual for cubs to leave their sleeping mothers and forage up to half a mile away.  We suspect that may be what happened.  Hope—possibly with Faith—may have ventured into the bait site.  The hunter would not have known this big yearling was still with her mother—still nursing along with her younger sister.  He would not have known it was Hope.

We don’t want to jump to conclusions, which is why we waited to hear from the hunter and are still waiting to hear from the DNR, which won’t happen now until Monday at the earliest. 

Cub at_Stny_Ridge_9-23-11cub at Stony Ridge - Sept 23, 2011So when we got a call of a young bear treed near Ely, we took a look.  It wasn’t Hope.  It was a pair of cubs we had received a call about yesterday, too.  The neighborhood had secretly enjoyed seeing the mother with cubs.  The residents became worried when a hunter began baiting nearby.  Shortly, the cubs were repeatedly seen alone.  Today, they were up trees where the landowners had not seen them before, and they called hoping they had found missing Hope. 

maple -_20110922blazing maple - Sept 22, 2011We feel like we did when June and her cubs went missing back in 2005.  We feared she had been shot.  That was the first experience like that for Sue, who had spent hundreds of hours with June, and she felt the huge loss until June’s signal was picked from an airplane by DNR researchers over 15 miles outside her usual area.  We feel like Lynn did when he homed in by airplane on the radio signal of a deer he had walked with for over 2 years as it grew up and had a fawn.  He had raised the deer on a bottle until she would come to his call.  Then he released her into the wild and watched her integrate with wild deer, even becoming the leader of wild deer she grouped with in a wintering area.  When he spotted the deer from the airplane, she was lying dead, having escaped from the hunter with an arrow through her.  He couldn’t talk about it, not even to his wife Donna, for nearly a week until he had his own emotions sufficiently in check to tell about it. 

Hope was/is special.  If she really is gone, we can say that she had so much more to teach.  We wonder how Faith feels with her buddy gone.  We wonder how Lily feels.  After her hormone problems were resolved, she became a devoted mother again, playing, nursing, and looking out for Hope as well as Faith.  She gave up food for herself to let Hope and Faith have it.  Now she has no choice but to move on without Hope, and we guess that is all we can do, too.  We want to believe she is okay somewhere and maintain a glimmer of hope.   But the email from the hunter made that hope very slim.  It’s true she wasn’t collared, but we had hoped that Hope’s story would play out.  We had more to learn from her. 

winterberry -_20110923winterberry - a bear food - Sept 23, 2011We don’t know what to say.  We suspect that some of you would know exactly what to say and could say it very eloquently, but we would rather you didn’t say it on Lily’s page or on any page associated with the research or the Bear Center.  We thank you all for your cooperation.

Glenn and Nancy spent the rest of yesterday and most of today monitoring Cookie to make sure she stayed away from the beehive.  She did.  Instead, she headed toward the area where she denned last winter.  She is undoubtedly pregnant, so she should den any day now.  The landowner took precautions beyond the electric fence he and we put up around his hives.  He found a bigger electric fence and put that up, too.  He very much cares about his bees.  In fact, he told us that he stayed up all night after finding Cookie at the hives that first evening.  He couldn’t help falling asleep about 5 AM.  When he awoke about 6:30 AM, he found that Cookie had been back and damaged a hive.  He said he cried like a baby.  We appreciate his working with us instead of just shooting her when he first saw her the evening before. 

Braveheart -_20110923Braveheart - Sept 23, 2011Braveheart managed to remove her radio-collar again (!), and we were lucky to get an opportunity to replace it.  However, the new collar doesn’t have a GPS unit yet.  When we visited her to give her a GPS unit, she wasn’t in a mood to accept it.  We’ll try again.  Braveheart is the typically calm bear that was featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune a couple years ago.  But as bears slow down for hibernation, there are times when we hesitate to push them too hard.  Any person or bear has limits. 

On the bright side, all indications are that the other bears are fine.  We are noticing movements that let us know some are headed for dens.  We’ll all rest easier when they all ‘go to ground’ –another term for ‘denning.’

Also on the bright side, the effort to make the black bear the Minnesota State Mammal got attention from lawmakers and the media yesterday.  A state senator and a state representative visited Dana Coleman’s class yesterday as Minneapolis TV stations covered the event.  One of the news pieces said that the issue had bipartisan support.  Here are the links http://kstp.com/article/stories/S2295885.shtml?cat=12196 and http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/video/6279420-andover-elementary-students-push-for-state-bear/

Thank you for all you do. 

—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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