By: Eric Fisher
CONWAY, Mass. (abc40) — Since 1970, MassWildlife has been studying the life cycles of black bears. Annual surveys are a major part of their work, and crews spent the better part of Friday morning visiting a den in the woods of Conway.
A team of biologists, along with abc40, hiked about twenty minutes into the forest off Route 116 to reach the den’s location. The first step of the process is to sedate the ‘momma bear’ using tranquilizer darts. This time around, there were few problems.
“She said hello. Dave (Fuller, MassWildlife) stuck her with a dart and she roared at him, but decided to stay in her den,” said Ralph Taylor, District Manager for MassWildlife.
It’s not always the case. Bears often run away when approached. But once pierced by a dart, the bear is ‘out’ for about two hours. That’s more than enough time to take care of the main goal of the survey, which is to attach a radio collar to the female adult bear.
Radio collars were the way of the past, sending out a UHF signal that can be tracked via antennae. But MassWildlife attached a new GPS collar on Friday that takes a fix every 1-2 hours. It will make bear tracking much more efficient in the future.
About 10 female bears are currently outfitted with collars in Massachusetts. Male bears are no longer given collars, because of their roaming capabilities.
“Some of the males moved as far away as Upstate New York, and one came down from Vermont after circling Lake Champlain,” said Taylor.
Weight is measured (150 pounds for the adult bear), and other vitals are taken during the survey. It’s performed at this time of year, because the bear is no longer alone. She’s now with 2 new cubs, one male and one female. They were born in early February.
The cubs are also weighed and measured, coming in at about 5 pounds each. They are too small to receive collars, but the female will be outfitted sometime next summer. Over the years, MassWildlife hopes to learn more about their life cycles, and how humans may affect it.
“We just added two, but we lost 5 last year,” says Taylor. “That’s part of the reproduction and mortality study. We’re trying to figure out how many bears are born each year, and how many die.”
One thing is certain, says Taylor. More bears are living in or visiting urban areas. He says the main reason for that is bird feeders, which he refers to as ‘bear feeders.” Taylor says many people often feed bears because they want to see them, and that’s a recipe for trouble.
Taylor advises everyone to never feed bears, and to avoid black-oil sunflower seeds in particular. They tend to attract the bears the most. There are now 3,000 black bears living in Massachusetts; that’s an incredible boom in population compared to the 100 that were recorded in 1970 when studies began.