2008 Fall Update

Each year takes surprising twists and turns but this year was especially eventful. The year began with the MN DNR removing one of our study bears (Solo) and her yearlings (Erin and Megan) and then challenging us to justify the renewal of our research permit. They sent our research proposal out for independent review. The reviews were supportive and our permit was renewed. From March thru September the BBC filmed a comprehensive documentary about Lynn Rogers and the research - and they will return next April to finish up. We seemed to have more than our share of unusual bear events this year; poaching, cub abandonment, accidents, illness, etc.

We are looking forward to next summer as a summer with an abundance of cubs and are especially hoping June will have cubs even though her mate was wounded and was not seen mating with her. Another thing we are waiting to learn is whether Cookie, the ‘bad' mother, will have cubs again this winter. We wonder if some kind of hormone mixup might explain her lack of care for her cub. Of course, one of the big things we hold our breath for over winter is seeing how many of the big males show up again in spring. None of the big males are radio-collared, so we can only wait and hope for their safe return after hunting season and winter hibernation. In 2009, we will be starting to use GPS radio-collars and will learn much more about the bears' movements. With that kind of collar, we may be able to radio-collar B.B. King if he shows up, enabling us to learn the details of his movements during the mating season.

FEMALES

Shadow (age 18), the matriarch of the research bears, remains uncollared. We cannot collar her without using immobilizing drugs and she eluded our attempts to tranquilize her. She will likely have cubs in January.

RC (age 9) has 3 cubs, Cowlick (M), Ted (M), and Jo (F). Cowlick was named for the unruly hair on his forehead while Ted and Jo were named after BBC Producer Ted Oakes and his wife Jo Usherwood. RC remains uncollared but we were able to collar her female cub Jo earlier this fall. We can now track them to their den and monitor their movements next spring. This will also help get Jo used to being collared and make it easier to switch her to an adult collar next year.

Donna (age 8) has 2 male cubs, Skeeter and Scooter. She dropped her collar shortly after leaving her den and we were unable to monitor the family's movements until she was recollared in mid-July. The family moved to their denning area in mid-Oct.

Dot (age 8) was first seen on May 8 with only one of her 2 male yearlings, Cody. The following day she split up with him. We are unsure what became of Monty, her other yearling. He may have left the family early or he may have been killed. We expect Dot to have cubs in January.

June (age 7) separated from her yearlings, Cal, Bud, and Lily, on June 8. A BBC camera crew was with the family at the time and provided us with valuable insights on family breakup. Mature male, Big Harry, repeatedly treed June's yearlings and June seemed torn between protecting her yearlings and her attraction to Big Harry. The yearlings soon came down and went their separate ways, but Lily circled back and hung around just out of sight while June and Big Harry rested together. At 7:20pm on the second day of their courtship, Big Harry was shot by a poacher while he was following June. The bullet tore through his back but missed bones and vital organs. It laid him low for several days but he continued to follow June until June 18. June expanded her territory to include the eastern side of Eagles Nest Lake 3 - an area which had been part of Solo's territory. We found June in a nice rock den in this area on Sept 4. She rested in or near her den and foraged on vegetation in a swamp nearby before retiring to her den for good on Sept 12. We expect she will have cubs in January.

Braveheart (age 6) provided us with another twist on family breakup. We collared her smallest yearling, Mickey, in order to monitor the timing of breakup. He left the family on May 11 and her other 2 male yearlings, Dale and Chip, separated from her on May 15. One-eyed Jack began following her May 18, and they were observed mating on May 25. Braveheart extended her territory to the southern side of Armstrong Lake this summer - an area which had been part of Solo's territory. On July 10, Braveheart was hit by a car as she crossed the highway. The car was travelling 60 mph and was totaled. Her collar broke from the impact so we were unable to locate her to assess her condition. As the weeks wore on we began to lose hope, but on August 13, Braveheart returned to the field station. She was rather subdued and limping slightly on her left hind leg. For the next month she bedded near the field station and came in regularly to feed. She gradually regained her strength and we cheered her on when she began to reassert her dominance over the other females. She moved back to her territory on Sept 3 and settled into a den by early Oct - the same den she had used in the fall of 2005.

Colleen (age 5) slipped her collar in the fall of 2007 just before denning. She returned with her 2 male yearlings, Tanner and Troy, last spring and was re-collared. She has lost her collar so often over the years that we don't know the full extent of her territory. We expect she will have cubs in January.

Juliet (age 5) had 3 cubs, David (M), MiMi (F), and Tia (F). The cubs were named after BBC cameraman David Wright, his wife MiMi McGee, and their beloved golden retriever. Little Tia was a confident and adventuresome cub. She was at the entrance of the den with Juliet during the early spring den visits, and she was the first to come down from a tree to join Juliet when the family moved from the den to a bed tree. Unfortunately, Juliet slipped her collar shortly after leaving her den. She is one of the bears featured in the BBC documentary that was being filmed at the time, so we were especially anxious to find her. An observant landowner saw her on June 3 and led us to the spot. Fortunately, she and her cubs were still in the area and Lynn was able to collar her. On June 9, Juliet was seen with only 2 cubs. Tia had disappeared. Juliet's other female cub, MiMi, took ill during the 3rd week of August and died. We were able to retrieve her body and do an autopsy. She died of hepatic sarcocystosis, caused by a protozoan parasite she may have picked up from a deer carcass. Juliet denned with her remaining cub David south of Tower.

Solo (age 4) and her 2 female yearlings, Megan and Erin, were captured by the MN DNR on January 14 and taken to Oswald's Bear Ranch in Newberry, Michigan, to spend the rest of their lives in captivity. Please see Research/Research Updates on www.bearstudy.org for more details of the events leading up to the DNR decision and the actual capture event. Losing these 3 female bears put a huge dent in our research. We were assured by the DNR that all 3 bears arrived alive and well at their destination and had gone back into hibernation. However, when we called Dean Oswald in April to find out how they were doing, we were told that the yearlings were fine but Solo had been found dead in her den. No tests had been done to determine the cause of death, but we feel it was most likely ‘capture myopathy' caused by the stress of the capture and separation from her cubs for the 12-hour road trip to Oswald's. Once capture myopathy begins it is always fatal. Death can occur in hours, days, or weeks. She may well have been alive when she reached Oswald's, but she was far from being well. She will live on in our hearts as a gentle bear that was misunderstood and misrepresented by the public officials charged with wildlife protection.

Keefer (age 4) has never been radio-collared so we do not know where her territory is. She does not come to the field station until late summer when wild foods have waned, so we surmise her territory is on the outskirts of the study area. We saw her for the first time this year on Aug 15. On Aug 27, a very thin, timid female yearling began frequenting the field station. She seemed to know her way around so we believe she is Keefer's cub from last year. She slipped in quietly to feed daily for a month, during which time she steadily gained weight and grew a beautiful winter coat.

Cookie (age 3) had one large male cub. After leaving her den she traveled with her cub northeast toward the Echo Trail. Her collar stopped functioning early in the summer, but she and her cub were seen crossing the Echo Trail, so we believe they spent June and July in that vicinity. In early August she returned to a cabin she had frequented the year before. There, she did something that has never been reported for any black bear before. She separated from her cub and began hanging out with a yearling male named Tanner, who was an offspring of Colleen. The cub, Lonestar, spent two months living around the cabin and seeking refuge in a large pine. Each time Cookie visited the cabin she chased Lonestar back up the tree. Eventually, Lonestar ran for the tree as soon as he caught her scent. Cookie continued to hang around with Tanner until a couple weeks before hibernation. We wondered what would happen to the orphaned cub Lonestar, so we put a small collar on him and radio-tracked him 9.8 miles to the area he and Cookie had used in early summer. There, he made a den that was every bit as good as any den an adult would make. Cookie also returned to the early summer area, but her den was 2.1 miles from his.

Curly (age 3) had a non-functioning radio-collar when she was shot by a hunter in September. Attempts to connect with Curly to change her collar before the batteries failed were not successful. Although we had easily collared her without drugs at the field station we could not approach her in the woods. We usually tie bright ribbons on the radio-collars before the bear hunt to make the collars visible, but this wasn't possible for Curly. The hunter didn't see the collar and felt bad he had shot a collared bear.

Shannon (age 3) is uncollared. She showed up at the field station several times, which probably indicates she was exploring new areas and may be taking over part of Solo's old territory. Shannon will likely have cubs in January.

Bow (age 2) lost her collar in August when it caught on a branch high in an oak tree. We were surprised she was eating acorns so early in the year - and we thank Bow for teaching us that. Bow is a bear that does not like close eye contact which makes collaring her a challenge. She remains uncollared. She attracted male attention in mid-summer and could have cubs in January.

Lily (age 1) took over a portion of her mother June's territory, and June avoided that area. Lily shows promise of being a good research subject. She moved to a den site on October 3 and is in a nice dug den just up from the shore of the Eagles Nest Lake 2.

Annie (age 3-4) is the only radio-collared bear that is not part of Shadow's clan. She spends late summer in the study area and is a naturally calm, trusting bear. We collared her to determine how her territory fits into those of the clan bears. She had 3 cubs, 2 females and a male. As the family was crossing Highway 169 just before 6 AM on Sept 20, the 2 female cubs were killed. Annie seemed distraught and did some unusual traveling the next two weeks. On October 5, she and the remaining cub headed north into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which is probably where she holds a territory-far outside our study area. The one other time we put a radio-collar on a non-clan bear, we discovered that her home territory was 44 miles north in Canada.

Midge, an old female (age unknown), frequented the field station again this summer, as is her habit in years when she does not have cubs. We don't know where she spends summers when she has cubs.

MALES
BB King (age 11) is doing well. The oozing wound on his back persists, but it does not seem to adversely affect his health. He ended up weighing close to 600 pounds by fall. He is just as calm and gentle as ever.

One-eyed Jack (age 10+) remains one of the dominant males in the study area. He courted and mated with Braveheart this year. As the years go by he collects more scars and wounds. On June 10, he arrived hopping on 3 legs and holding his injured right front foot close to his chest. There was a small wound on the top of his foot were it was likely bitten during a fight. A week later he began putting some weight on the heel of his injured foot.

Lumpy (age 10+) is another dominant male. He again courted Midge as he did 2 years ago. He remains the largest bear we see and we have to adjust our scale for him. His final weight this year was 669 pounds.

Big Harry (age 10+) instigated family breakup between June and her yearlings on June 8. A day later at 7:20 PM, he was wounded by a poacher. The shot was recklessly fired across a public road while a BBC camera crew followed the courting bears. Very scary. We were able to document his injuries for MN DNR investigators, but they have not brought charges against anyone yet. After being shot, Big Harry remained with June most of the time until June 18. This prevented other males from joining her, but we did not see Big Harry try to mount June again after being wounded across the back. We will see if June produces cubs this coming January or not. Big Harry appears to have fully recovered from his wound.

Willy (age 7) is June's brother and shares her calm temperament. He visited the field station in late August for the first time in several years. It was a very welcome visit.

Shylow (age 6) was the last of our regular big males to show up after mating season. It is likely that his mating range does not include this area. He has grown into a big handsome male and will continue to grow for another few years. He weighed 585 pounds on September 25. The notch out of his right ear makes him easily identifiable.

Pete (age 3) was wounded by a bow hunter in last year's bear hunt. The wound closed up over winter but opened again during the mating season. Given the extent of the initial injury he has made an amazing recovery.

Luke (age 2) was around late this summer. It was fun watching Bow's reaction when he first showed up. She immediately recognized her cousin and greeted him playfully. They fed together at a feeder with her paw on his. We suspect he had dispersed and returned briefly when food became scarce in his new range.

Dale (age 1) was a regular visitor to the field station this summer. Towards the end of the summer he began to pal around with his brother Mickey and cousin Cal. We attempted to collar all three to determine how much time they spent together and if they would den near one another. However, we were unable to collar Dale. He was shot the first day of the hunt.

Mickey (age 1) was not a regular at the field station until late summer when wild foods waned and he joined up with Cal and Dale. We gave him a radio-collar festooned with bright pink ribbons. A hunter shot him anyway on September 4.

Cal (age 1) is collared and provided us with interesting data on the pre-denning travels of a young male. He moved 4 miles south to the far edge of his mother June's territory and then 6 miles north into the territory of the two males he had hung around with until they were shot by hunters. Finally, he settled into a rock den a half mile from the field station. It is a den that June and her cubs Pete and George explored but did not use in 2005.