2006 Fall Update
While we know and accept that the bears we work with here at the Wildlife Research Institute are technically part of the hunted population, it is always difficult when a research bear is killed. Last year we lost 8-year-old Blackheart and this year two yearlings were killed - Moe and Gracie.
Moe, a non-collared male, was shot over a bait across the road from the field station where Donna Phelan often takes course folks for a walk. The same hunter killed yearling males (non-collared) there the past two years but we were told he would not be hunting there this year. We found his bait site on the first day of the hunt while out with a TV news crew doing a piece on the importance of radio-collared bears.
Moe was a regular at the field station this summer because of the lack of food in the woods. He won the hearts of many. He was one of our ambassador bears. Even folks who were afraid of bears warmed up to Moe and many joked about taking him home. We will miss him.
Gracie was shot within her territory north of the highway. Gracie visited the field station only occasionally. She spent most of her time north of the highway carving out part of her mother Braveheart's territory for her own. We try hard to ‘out-bait' the hunters but these bears prefer to be in their territories and we can't always compete with food put in their territory by hunters - even if that food is lower quality. We worried about Gracie through the first two weeks of the hunt because our signs asking hunters not to shoot radio-collared bears were repeatedly torn down in her territory. When we picked up her collar from the DNR it was still festooned with 8 colorful ribbons, but the hunter told them he never saw the collar.
Losing these two bears is difficult - as is breaking the news to folks who came to know and love them through the Black Bear Field Study Courses.
Fortunately, bears that visit the Research Center survive at a higher rate than the overall population. That goes for non-collared bears as well as for the collared bears. Both survive equally well and at a much higher rate than other bears. The average age at which bears in Minnesota are killed is only 2 for males and only 3 for females, but we haven't lost a single adult male the last several years, and thankfully we lost only 4 radio-collared bears in the last nine years (Whiteheart and Spirit in 2000, Blackheart in 2005, and Gracie in 2006). While the bear hunt is not officially over yet, the first 2 weekends are the most critical and most of the radio-collared bears are now in dens.
Pregnant females typically are the first bears to enter dens, but Shadow (16), the matriarch of the clan we are studying, denned earlier than any bear we have ever studied. We radio-located her at her den site on August 22, and apparently she has been there ever since. We re-checked her location on Sept 1, 3 and 9. On Sept 10, we walked in and found she had raked bedding from a large area into a shallow depression under the roots of an upturned tree. She was resting on the large bed she had made as a good insulative base for giving birth in January. Her yearling daughter Ursula denned a mile away from her a month later.
Donna (6), another pregnant female, was in her den by September 12. Her yearling daughter Shannon is denning a mile away from her.
June (5) was in a freshly dug den on Sept 14. Her nose was still covered with dirt and no bedding material had yet been raked in. The den is dug into the side of an esker and lined with cobblestone-sized rocks. We monitored her den regularly hoping to video her final den preparation. One day she spent time rearranging the rocks lining her den. We heard the sound of rocks clunking together as she worked inside her den with her rump blocking the entrance. Finally on Sept 21 she raked bedding into her den. We are fortunate this calm trusting bear is comfortable enough with our presence to permit us to observe and video her den preparations and we look forward to what she can show us after she gives birth in January.
On Sept 28 I hiked in on June's collared yearling George to remove his collar and found him at the entrance of a nicely dug den under the roots of an upturned tree. It was a difficult decision to remove his collar but he has already dispersed from June's territory and may travel farther away in the year ahead. Next spring and summer we will be very busy with the new Bear Center and I feared we would lose track of our Curious George and he would outgrow his collar. It was hard to walk away from this bear that is so tolerant of my presence.
Juliet (3) lost her collar while marking a red pine in her territory south of Soudan last fall and was re-collared when she returned to the field station this summer on July 7. She arrived with much fanfare when she made several laps around the yard with Braveheart in hot pursuit. As Juliet ran by I could see she was lactating. She soon began bringing her cubs to the field station - 2 males, Luke and Skywalker - and the family remained nearby for the remainder of the summer. On Sept 13 Juliet moved 2 ¼ miles west to the Fourmile Lake area where she remained for 2 days before continuing westerly to her territory south of Soudan. On Sept 24 she was again located in the Fourmile Lake area and continued to travel easterly to within a mile of the field station. She seems to have settled into an area between Fourmile Lake and Needle Boy Lake and has likely denned. This area has historically been RC's territory but RC lost her collar last spring and has remained un-collared so the extent of RC's current territory is unknown.
Hazel's yearling female, Curly, was found in a wonderful rock den about 2 ¼ miles from the field station on Oct 1. The next night, she was at the field station. By 5:30 AM the next morning she was back in her den. One of the things we are learning is how variable black bears can be in their behavior.
Since Sept 24, skittish Hazel (5), who we have never been able to get near in the woods, settled into an area where we suspect she is denning only 100 yards from Highway 169 and less than 200 yards from a house. She is also due to have cubs this winter. If her skittish nature permits it, this is the best chance we have had for a den cam since 2000.
Solo (2), another potentially pregnant female, lost her collar while marking a utility pole in the middle of her territory on Sept 26. Females increase marking activities in September. With only one ear, Solo loses a lot of collars each September. September 26 was late enough that we didn't see her again, and she is probably in a den by now and our hopes of monitoring her first litter are fading. We will wait for her to show up next spring to re-collar her.
Braveheart (4) seemed to settle into one general area between Sept 19 and Sept 24 but then roamed her territory before heading back to that area on Oct 1. We suspect she has denned.
Dot (6) and her yearling Cookie have been roaming and it is not clear where they may have dens, but Dot's yearling Tucker was found in a dug den Oct 4.
RC and her cubs have not yet denned and visited the field station at this very moment at 6:50 AM on October 5.
Yearling males Burt, Pete, Larry and Max have all checked in at the field station since the second weekend of the hunt, as have One-eyed Jack, Lumpy (both over 600 pounds), Victor, Big Harry, and Little Harry so we believe they are fine and likely have denned by now. BB King has not shown up, but that is usual for him. Every year, he makes us worry and then shows up early the next spring.