Love those bear cubs!

Yearlings run.  That was the caution that Randy Cross told Staci (MyMainelyGirlAdventures) and me as we met with the Maine bear crew to prepare to head into the woods.  This particular den that we were going to had a 16 year old sow, who had had four cubs with her last year when they checked her den.  There was the potential for four yearlings plus Mama in the den.  I was a little giddy with the idea of so many bears!

It is easy to brag about the bear crew. Aside from their decades of experience working with Maine’s bear population, they are a study in how team should work.  They know their strengths and weaknesses and support one another to ensure that they have a plan and back up plans for every den visit.  Staci and I tried not to nerd out as we watched Randy Cross, Lisa Feener, Jake Feener and Ethan Lamb plan for our decent into the woods.

We loaded up the snowmobiles and began to look for an access point into the woods.  Jake took the lead and I road with Lisa as we bounced off small trees and squeezed into narrow openings in order to get as close as possible to the den.  We would stop every 50 yards or so and Lisa would take a reading on the bear’s collar.   The team used hand signals to tell one another where they needed to go.  We parked the sleds far enough away from the den so that we wouldn’t spook the bears.

With our snowshoes on, Staci and I followed behind the team, watching and listening.  What would the den look like? Last year, this bear had denned up in an old beaver house.  The forecast called for rain and the temperature was warm enough that large clumps of wet snow would fall on and around us as we walked.  The team fanned out to cover more ground and try to find the den before the bear(s) realized that we were there and could potentially take off.  We watched as they held up fingers to indicate how close they were.  Then, we heard the whistle.  The sound that meant someone had a visual on the den or in this case, the bears.

The team got into position and through the tight cluster of trees, Staci and I tried to see what was happening. Within a few minutes, Randy waved us over.
A ground blind made by a Maine Black bear

There, in a ground blind, was mama bear and one female yearling. Over the course of the past year, that bear had traveled more than 150 miles before she denned up.  Given the size of the yearling, Randy wondering if some of the cubs were lost along the way and she had circled back to try and find them or if any yearlings had just denning nearby instead of with her.  

Maine's Bear Cew
Sow and yearling female cub get measured, weighed and collared
We watched as they replaced batteries in the collars, gave the yearling, now named North, new ear tags and tattooed her upper lip to match the numbers on her tags. Each bear was weighed and hair samples were taken to test the overall health of the animal. The crew effortlessly recorded all of the health information that they needed for both bears. They were beautiful, healthy bears with thick fur and lots of fat to keep them going throughout the winter.

Female yearling black bear
Me, holding the sow and Staci holding the yearling
We took photos and videos and watched as the team put the bears back in their den and pick up their gear.  We followed our trail back out of the woods and then back to our vehicles.  The team was heading to another den in hopes of getting a few more done before the rain came later on in the day.  Staci and I headed home, in awe of the bears and the incredible team that Maine has keeping track of our bear population.

You can see videos and more pictures by visiting my Facebook page!

You can read Staci's write up on our day here.