2001-09-22 - Bear movements have slowed greatly

Three of the four radio-collared bears have ceased roaming.  We are documenting their movements, or lack of it, and will eventually examine the locations to determine what the bears have been doing.  We are reluctant to visit the bears at this time, during hunting season, because that could possibly cause the bears to move.  We suspect from the active radio signals that three of the bears are constructing dens at this time.

The fourth radio-collared bear is spending each day in a cedar swamp with pools of water available.  As bears switch from feeding to fat utilization, they often spend several days resting near water.  They continue to drink after they cease feeding.   This enables them to flush wastes from their system without relying on the water created from fat metabolism. 

Although the bear hunting season, which began August 22, will run through October 14, hunter activity has slowed.   Hundreds of bears were shot in northeastern Minnesota, but (thankfully) none of our radio-collared bears were among them.   Fifteen volunteers, headed by Charlie and Sue Ragan, formed a neighborhood watch to ask hunters not to shoot the radio-collared bears.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also asked hunters to refrain from shooting them.  The volunteers came from the neighborhood, across the country, and from Germany.  Hunters that the volunteers talked with were cooperative.  We are worried, though, about one of our favorite research bears, Donna.  This yearling removed her radio-collar during hunting season and was not seen again.  However, at the same time, her sister (Dot) and mother (Blackheart) each retreated to remote parts of the forest and were not seen again, either.  We visited them soon after their moves and know that they are fine and simply slowing down for the winter.  We are hoping the same is true for Donna and that she will show up again next spring.

We are looking forward to Blackheart and RC producing cubs in January and showing us details of cub care and forest use.  Blackheart will allow us to watch her closely and we are hoping that RC will, too.  RC is so trusting at the Northwoods Research Center that we radio-collared her simply by offering her some nuts and putting the radio-collar on while she was eating.  However, she has never allowed us to glimpse her anywhere else.  All attempts to join her in the forest are met with a fading radio signal as she silently slips away.  Blackheart was the same way until she had cubs that held her down.  This allowed us to approach her and get her used to being watched.  Hopefully, RC will allow the same next spring and show us things about bear life that we can use to help bears forever by sharing the information with the public, wildlife managers, and forest managers.

We are thankful to all the volunteers who helped protect the study bears during hunting season.  This is a time of great worry for us.  We know that the average at which bears are killed in hunted populations is four years, even though bears can live to an age of thirty or more.  With the help of volunteers and with the cooperation of hunters, our study bears live longer, on the average, than the other bears.  Now that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is also asking hunters to refrain from shooting the radio-collared bears, we are hoping that they will live even longer, giving us increasingly rich information as they get older and are sharing land with their daughters and grand-daughters.