2009 Fall Update
We are happy to report that no radio-collared bears were killed during this fall's bear hunt-in fact we don't know of any uncollared bears killed either. Fewer permits were issued so there was less hunting pressure. Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sent a letter to each bear hunter holding a permit for this area. The letter told about our long-term bear research and asked hunters to avoid shooting radio-collared bears. All hunters we spoke with showed interest in the research and assured us they have no intention of shooting a radio-collared bear. We are hopeful this level of cooperation between research, hunters, and the MN DNR will continue into the future.
After a rough summer in 2007, community support for the research has vastly improved. Community members were outraged at the heavy-handed MN DNR for removing gentle Solo and her two yearlings from their den in 2008 and putting them into captivity. Solo soon died but her offspring will spend the rest of their lives in captivity. The public outrage led to a better understanding of our research, greater tolerance towards bears in the community, and community members volunteering at the Bear Center.
Filming for the BBC documentary ‘Bearwalker of the Northwoods'-which features Lynn Rogers and his innovative bear research-finished in April. The documentary premiered in the UK on October 28 and a shortened version will air on Animal Planet in early 2010. The BBC film crew became like family and welcomed our input into the film and the final script. This documentary provides us with our best opportunity to educate the public about black bears. Lynn flew to the UK for the premier to help promote the film and bask in the well-deserved recognition. We received a flood of emails from folks who were moved by the documentary and our 2010 Black Bear Field Study Courses filled within a week of the premier!
With no film crew around this past summer, we experimented with new data collection methods-with the help of some friends. Bear course participants come from all walks of life and some have unique skills and find ways to advance our research. Graduate Jim Stroner spearheaded a project to upgrade our ability to obtain bear weights by installing a digital scale, camera, and computer program that automatically records the weight of a bear, its picture, and how much it ate while on the scale. Those of you familiar with our old Toledo scale know what an amazing improvement this new system is! We moved our old scale to the eastern part of the study area so weights of research bears that never visit the field station can be recorded.
With support from course graduates Doug and MaryLou Crouch, Jim also helped us get started using Geographical Positioning System (GPS) technology. We are now attaching GPS units to radio collars, and the units send each bear's location to a Google map on our computer every 10 minutes. This gives us more data, and more precise data, on movements and habitat use than ever before. Because we've developed trusting relationships with our research bears, they allow us to change batteries as needed without using tranquilizers. This combination of trust and technology is revolutionizing our research. We could use other GPS systems, but those send locations infrequently or store them in the collars to be downloaded months later when the collar is retrieved. Our GPS units give us locations in real time, any time, so we can join the bears to see firsthand what they are doing when the GPS data show a bear is concentrating its time in an area.
We have become addicted to this new high-tech GPS method of monitoring travels, and have partnered with Digi International and Iowa State University to find ways to improve the system. A group of engineering students at ISU has taken it on as their Senior Project and we are hopeful this will develop into an ongoing relationship between our organizations.
A brief update on individual study bears follows.
Shadow (age 19), the matriarch of the research bears, had two male cubs this year. She has had 8 litters totaling 20 cubs over the years and continues to be healthy. Shadow remains uncollared.
RC (age 10) and her yearlings, Cowlick (M), Ted (M), and Jo (F), all climbed a white pine when One-eyed Jack came into the yard on May 13. However, after family breakup on May 19, RC and Jack were seen together on several occasions. Ted dispersed shortly after family breakup, Cowlick dispersed in mid-summer, and Jo remained in the study area. RC remains uncollared.
Donna (age 9) was seen playing and eating with Toby during their 10-day courtship in May. Donna's territory is in the eastern part of the study area, but she surprised us by visiting the field station on 2 occasions this summer.
Dot (age 9) had 3 cubs in the den with her on April 8 but only 2 when seen again on May 24. She was seen on several occasions sleeping high in a tree with her remaining cubs-outgoing Bailey (M), and a shy little Kaylie (F).
June (age 8) had 2 cubs, Jewel (F) and Jordan (M). June was the first bear to wear one of the new GPS units. Instead of obtaining a few dozen approximate locations on her for the summer using traditional telemetry, we have over 3000 precise GPS locations that pinpoint key habitat components. The data are revealing productive food patches and favorite bedding sites.
For example, in August, June and her cubs spent day after day in a clearcut (see image). Joining them, we found them feeding in the biggest raspberry patch we'd ever seen, and the bushes were loaded. In September, we found them feeding on a bumper crop of downy arrowwood berries in another part of June's territory.
Of particular interest was watching how June and her independent 2-year-old daughter Lily (also with a GPS unit) sorted out their overlapping territories. We look forward to monitoring shifts in their territories in the years to come.
Midway through the hunting season, June and her cubs entered a den for the winter. We were relieved to have this ultra-important research bear safe in a den for the year.
Braveheart (age 7) had 3 female cubs. Like her pervious litters, one cub was considerably smaller than the others. In the past, the ‘runt' has always survived, but this year the littlest cub disappeared early in the summer. Braveheart always seems to roam later into the fall than our other study bears and we are not yet sure where she will den.
Colleen (age 6) had 3 cubs, Debbie (F), Gina (F), and Squawker (M) in a remote area. She lost her collar in an even more remote area shortly after leaving her den but was re-collared later in the summer. We lost her signal when she moved off to den and flew to locate her in a remote roadless area.
Juliet (age 6) separated from her lone yearling David about May 18-19. Her territory is mainly south of Soudan and Tower, about 6-8 miles west of the field station. After visiting the field station she travels quickly through the territories of other females to get back to her own territory. On two such occasions she was wearing a GPS unit and we were able to trace the routes she used and determine her pace. She has chosen a den under a mass of fallen trees and will likely have cubs in January.
Keefer (age 5) either did not have cubs this year or lost them early in the year. Keefer has never been collared.
Cookie (age 4) spent most of the summer up along the Echo Trail which passes through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We worried a bit because the battery in her collar was at the end of its life, but she finally returned and was re-collared. Cookie has denned NE of the Echo Trail and we expect her to have cubs in January.
Shannon (age 4) had her first litter-Star (F) and Sunshine (F). She seemed to really enjoy her cubs and was often seen playing with them. She remains uncollared after deliberately taking off each collar put on her. We'll try again next year!
Ursula (age 4) returned to the field station on July 5 for the first time since she was a yearling. She had lost her collar while marking a utility pole as a 2-year-old and we'd begun to think we would never see her again. We gave her a collar, radio-tracked her the remainder of the summer, and expect her to have cubs in January. Unfortunately, she slipped her collar on the way to her den so we will not be able to locate her den and check for cubs.
Bow (age 3) surprised us by appearing at the field station on May 24 with a tiny male cub (Ty). Bow's mother RC was relentless in chasing her out of the field station yard. On several occasions, Ty was left overnight and his cries brought Braveheart running from across the beaver dam. Once she assured herself the crying cub wasn't hers, she returned to her own cubs. As a tiny cub, Ty gave up waiting for his mother and went in search of her. We wondered if we would ever see him again. Somehow he managed to find Bow and we soon learned not to worry.
Lily (age 2) visited the field station this year. She was not brought here as a cub by her mother, June, nor did she come on her own as a yearling. She greatly expanded her territory this year to include additional portions of her mother's territory and some totally new areas. We expect her to have her first litter in January.
Jo (age 1) was hit by a car on May 28 but fortunately escaped serious harm. She is the daughter of blustery RC, but, unlike RC who is a nervous bear, Jo has a calm trusting personality. We had very little contact with Jo until she came to us as a yearling after family breakup, but she tolerated our touch and was easily collared. Her personality reminds us of June and we are hopeful Jo will one day let us walk with her and learn the details of her life. She is tucked into a culvert den for the winter. When we visited her at the den she was just as calm as she is at the field station.
Annie (age 4-5) slipped her collar during hibernation and remains uncollared. Attempts to re-collar her this year were unsuccessful. Three different males showed interest in her during mating season and we expect she will have cubs in January. Although Annie is not a member of Shadow's clan, we hope to re-collar her next spring to further assess the extent of her territory and learn how it fits into the study area.
Midge (age unknown) may be the oldest bear we ever studied. Her incisors are worn down to the gums. She doesn't come to the field station in years she has cubs. She was due to have cubs this year, so we were surprised to see her on August 8. She still had most of her long shaggy winter coat so we believe she had cubs and lost them-lactating females shed later than other bears. She visited the field station only sporadically. We wonder if she is in her last year of life because she lost 54 pounds between Aug 8 and Oct 10 when other bears were gaining. She continued to come to the field station after all other bears had left and began to regain some of the weight she lost. We gave her a radio-collar to learn where her territory is and what happens to her over winter. We want to monitor her aging process and do an autopsy if she dies.
BB King (age 12) arrived at the field station on July 5 at the end of mating season. His weight was low and his coat was ragged. The long-standing wound on his back was oozing brown smelly pus and he was limping on his left front paw. We put a GPS collar on him and monitored his daily movements. When we found he was bedding nearby during the day we felt confident about starting him on a course of antibiotics. Within days, the drainage from his wound began to run clear, his coat improved, and he began to gain weight. His paw remained a problem, but his limp improved, and we are hopeful that a winter of den rest will help. As he moved off to a den in early Sept he stopped to rub a utility pole and rubbed his collar off-leaving it at the base of the pole-so we won't learn where he dens. We hope he returns early next spring so we can re-collar him to record his movements during mating season.
One-eyed Jack (age 12+) remains one of the dominant males in the study area. He has many wounds, inflicted by both bears and humans, but he remains calm and trusting.
Lumpy (age 12+) has been a fairly regular visitor to the field station in past years but we saw him for only 2 weeks in July this year.
Big Harry (age 12+) was a regular visitor to the field station. Other than an indent across his back from the loss of tissue, there is no sign of the bullet wound he suffered last year. Once again he lost hair overwinter around the site of the bullet wound he suffered two summers ago. On two occasions this summer Harry was blustery towards another male in the yard then immediately made friendly tongue-clicking sounds towards a nearby researcher.
Willy (age 8) did not visit the field station this summer. When he visited the field station last summer we hadn't seen him in 2 years. We've learned not to worry about our males that disperse.
Shylow (age 7) returned this year with his usual swagger. He has grown into a huge handsome bear and is easily recognized by the chunk out of his right ear and the diagonal scar down the bridge of his nose.
Midnight (age 6-8) was new to the study area this year. We first saw him when he followed Lily into the yard of the field station. Big Harry chased him over the bank towards the lake and we could hear them fighting. Harry came back with a huge gash across his forehead. We saw more fresh wounds on mature males than usual during the mating season this year and we wonder if this new male is responsible for the injuries.
Guy (age 5-7) is a bear who has come around for several years but was never named until this year. It is not unusual for young males to stop in as they are passing through so we don't give them all names. However Guy has become a regular and we expect we will see him for years to come.
Crackle (age 5) is a brown-phase male that has visited the field station since he was 2. Early in the summer his old winter coat bleaches to a light brown, but, as he sheds, his new coat grows in chocolate brown. It is often difficult to tell he is brown unless he is near a black bear. He and Pete are buddies and often appear at the field station together. Although Crackle is a year older they are about the same size and Crackle defers to Pete when Pete asserts himself.
Pete (age 4) continues to visit the field station periodically. He was very playful as a cub and continues to instigate play with other males as an adult. During mating season there was an ‘edge' to his play and some other young males backed away. But once mating season was over, Pete often initiated play with the other young adult males.
Luke (age 3) has likely dispersed from the study area. He has no distinctive markings so it is hard to know if he was one of the young males that passed through this summer.
Cal (age 2) moved from the rock den we initially found him in last fall to the den June had dug in 2004. We removed his collar at the den to make him more comfortable and thinking that he might disperse in the spring. We didn't see Cal again until August. We wondered where he had been so we slipped a radio-collar and GPS unit on him.
On the morning of September 5, we saw he had begun moving north at 12:11 AM. After bedding for the day, he resumed his trek at 6:57 PM, and we watched on our computer as he swam north across Mud Lake at 8:28 PM. At 12:23 AM on September 6, he worked his way around Crab Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. By 11:03 AM, he was at Ed Shave Lake on the north side of the Echo Trail. He bedded by the lake for the day. At 8:00 PM, he resumed his journey and entered a roadless area that stretched far north into Canada. We watched in amazement as each new location appeared on our computer screen. By 10:10 AM the next morning, he was on a peninsula in Crooked Lake on the Canadian border-28.4 miles from the field station. From there, he turned southeast, and a day later his GPS batteries gave out. Eleven days later, he was at the field station again after having given us unprecedented data on the travels of bears that intermittently disappear. On October 2 he left again, probably headed to a den, but his GPS batteries had again run out and we weren't able to monitor his movement this time. We flew towards Crooked Lake in hopes of finding him but failed to find him there, and the weather closed in on us before we could look elsewhere. We will choose a clear day next time so we can fly higher to cover a wider signal area.
David (age 1), the sole survivor of Juliet's last litter, was a frequent visitor to the field station this summer and into the fall. David will likely disperse next spring. He has a very distinctive face so we should be able to recognize him if we see him again.