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Gov. Patrick, Wildlife Officials Take Part in Yearly Bear Survey

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BELCHERTOWN, Mass. (WGGB) — Mass. Governor Deval Patrick joined researchers Thursday as they conducted their annual survey of black bear cubs.

Patrick was joined by Mass. Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Rick Sullivan and others as they headed off into the woods of Belchertown to check on the state of the bear population in the Commonwealth.

MassWildlife began studying the population and health of the state’s black bear population in 1970. At that time there were about 100 bears and today there are thousands.

In order to conduct the research, the mother bear is woken up from her long winter nap. Then she is helped back to sleep.

“We use a drug that immobilizes the bear, so it basically makes it so she can’t move,” says Laura Conlee, Black Bear Project Leader at MassWildlife.

The bear is okay and slightly aware of what’s going on with the drug. While sleeping, a whole crowd welcomes her newborn cub into the world. It is a female, 6 weeks old, 6 and a quarter pounds. She is small enough to fit perfectly in Governor Deval Patrick’s coat.

“When we pulled out the cub, weighed it, and found out it was a female. That all goes into a database we can look back at for a very long time and figure out how our population is changing,” says Conlee.

It’s important information because we live with wildlife more now than ever, in residential communities surrounded by roads, houses, and people. If we can track where they are, we can monitor their well-being.

“When we come out here the GPS collars we put on bears give us detailed information on their habitat use,” says Conlee.

“We can understand through the work the team is doing, how to live in harmony,” Governor Patrick adds.

While the mother is weighed and measured today too, guests don’t mind holding the baby to keep her warm. When mother bear wakes up she will recognize our scent. However she will not harm or abandoned them.

“I’m 81 and that’s probably the best experience of my life,” says Elizabeth Oleksak of Westfield.

After a short visit everyone said their good-byes and led them back to the den. Researchers plan to track this particular bear for the rest of her life. And when the baby gets older, they will put a collar on her too. It won’t take long for the cub to grow up, by next year she could weigh between 50 and 75 pounds.

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