For Immediate Release - February 27, 2009

State Biologists Conduct Annual Black Bear Survey

MassWildlife biologists survey Whatley den with mother bear and three cubs

WHATELY - A team of biologists from MassWildlife, joined by Governor Patrick, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles, and Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Commissioner Mary Griffin, traveled today to a Whately black bear den to study a female bear and her three newborn cubs. The group recorded each cub's weight and gender and examined the mother bear.

"Governor Patrick's support of land conservation efforts, like the 218 acres protected in Whately last year, helps to protect black bears and a diverse collection of wildlife species living in the woods, mountains, and waterways across the Commonwealth," Secretary Bowles said.

MassWildlife began its study of black bears in 1970 in cooperation with the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Biologists will add the data gathered at the Whately den today to this study to continue tracking the bear population by monitoring reproduction, cub and adult female survival rates, and human-bear interactions.

When the study began, there were 100 black bears in Massachusetts, and today that population has grown to approximately 3,000. MassWildlife, a division of DFG, is currently tracking 15 mother bears with radio collars. Based on last year's breeding data there are 10 bears likely to have newborn cubs.

The Patrick-Murray Administration led an unprecedented effort to protect 24,104 acres of land, including woodland habitat, across the Commonwealth. Last year, programs led by the DFG and MassWildlife protected 6,198 acres of vital fish and wildlife habitat. These programs helped to ensure biodiversity in 41 towns including Whately.

The Whately land was acquired by Department of Fish and Game in three locations: Whately Ponds Fish and Wildlife area, Mt. Esther Wildlife Management Area, and Whately Wildlife Management Area.

MassWildlife does not collar male bears, but ear-tags them to provide future knowledge about their survival rates and movements. Newborn cubs are too small to tag or collar. MassWildlife officials attempt to visit the den of radio-collared bears each winter.

"Studies like this one prove that the scientific wildlife management methods not only inform scientists and educate the public, but serve as a model for wildlife conservation and restoration efforts ongoing statewide," said Commissioner Griffin. "Land and water protection coupled with scientific study have improved habitat for many of the Commonwealth's wildlife, including black bear, moose, and many river fish species."

Contrary to popular belief, black bears don't go into true hibernation in winter. They sleep in their dens from November or December until early March or mid-April, but may wake up to forage in mild weather.

Along with an extraordinary sense of smell to locate food and recognize potential danger, black bears are excellent climbers. Male black bears generally weigh between 130 pounds to 600 pounds and females from 100 pounds to 400 pounds. In Massachusetts, male bears average 230 pounds and female bears average 140 pounds.

Black bears mate between mid-June and mid-July. Cubs are born in mid- to late January through February. Litter sizes are usually two or three cubs. Cubs leave the den in April and remain with the mother for 17 months. Bears are active in daytime during spring and fall and more active during the summer at dawn and dusk. They are omnivores, eating vegetation, berries, insects and carrion.

The steady increase in the Bay State's black bear population over the past 30 years has spawned an increase in encounters between bears and humans, particularly in highly populated areas where bear population density is also high, such as parts of Hampshire County.

MassWildlife officials urge people not to feed or approach bears. Other tips include always securing trash in closed containers or clapping, talking or making other loud sounds during an encounter with a bear in the wild.