Spring Black Bear Management

In Maine, it is easy to brag about our bear biologists.  I did some quick math and with conservative estimates, Maine's bear biologist Randy Cross has spent more than 72,000 hours studying and working with our black bears.  That blows Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule out of the water.  I was lucky enough to tag along with Randy and his bear crew, including Lisa Bates, as they started running their trap lines to check the health of our bears.  

I met Randy and two of his team mates, Preacher and Roach, as they headed out on day 3 of the 2016 trapping season. Their goal during the six week season is to collar as many females as possible while also getting the stats (weight, length, canine tooth size etc) of all of the bears caught.  Starting off slow, they continue to add traps until they have about 100 spread across the study area. 

We had a list of places that we needed to check. We headed into a system of dirt roads to begin checking the traps that the teams had set the day before.  In Maine, all traps must be checks every 24 hours, so the bear crew breaks into groups to cover as much ground as possible. Having done this for so long, Randy knew the bears in the area and what he hoped to see at each location; be it a sow with yearlings/cubs or some big males that had been trapped before.  He also knew how they would be acting; hungry and anxious to make up for the weight lost over the winter but not hungry enough to be walking the roads to eat plants like wild strawberries.

The first three traps that we checked were empty.  There were signs that ravens had found the bait at one site and of bears passing through but not stepping on the trap itself in others.  On the fourth site, we had our first bear of the day!

Young Male Black Bear
It was a yearling who was laying down and watched us as we approached. Randy walked towards the bear to get it on its feet while Roach walked along the edge of the trap circle and found the perfect spot to jab the bear with the sedative. Once that was done, we left the bear’s line of sight and waited for 7 minutes before we went back.

Preacher removed the cable from the bear’s front paw and helped to get him flat so that they could begin to get measurements; 61 pounds with canines measuring 14mm. His ear was ripped, which they marked down as a distinguishing characteristic along with the number tattoo’d on his upper lip.  The crew worked fast and were always checking to make sure that the bear was not overheating.  His fur was still thick with his winter coat but he was a beautiful, healthy bear.  I took a few photos and they moved the bear away from the trap to wake up and continue on his way.  The crew would come back later to reset the trap.

Measuring the bear's canine teeth
Taking body measurements
Noting the tattoo on his upper gum.
The next site that we went to also had a male yearling.  Like the first bear, he was laying down and watching us approach.  Repeating the process and checking the tag numbers in the bear’s ear, this was the first repeat catch of the season.  Randy explained how, although it was earlier than normal, yearlings were being cast off by their moms and these young males were now traveling miles to find food and new territory.  In the first three days of their trapping season, Randy said that 8 out of 10 had been male yearlings.  We met Lisa and her team after all of the traps had been checked.  They had caught a two year old, 64lb male on their line and were now strategizing over which trap lines to add to their system over the weekend. 

Second yearling caught that day.
As Mainer’s, we know how lucky we are to have such dedicated and passionate biologists working for our wildlife.  Being able to watch them work in their element, gives you a whole new appreciation for all that they do and the amount of knowledge that they have. You can tell why they are the best in the country!