State Biologists Conduct Annual Black Bear Survey
MassWildlife biologists survey Conway den with mother bear and cubs
CONWAY - March 5, 2010 - A team of biologists from MassWildlife, joined by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles and Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Commissioner Mary Griffin, traveled today to a Conway black bear den to study a female bear and her two newborn cubs. The group recorded each cub's weight and gender and examined the mother bear.
"These bears are magnificent creatures, and getting to go along with the state's wildlife biologists to check in on the newborn cubs is one of the greatest privileges that come with my position," Secretary Bowles said. "Research efforts like this one help us to keep track of the progress we are making, through our wildlife management and habitat conservation efforts, to ensure that black bears and a host of other species survive and thrive in Massachusetts."
The Conway cubs, a male and a female, weighed five pounds each and are estimated to be six to eight weeks old. While at the den, DFW biologists also checked the weight and health of the four-year-old mother bear, which weighed 150 pounds.
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 Conway den today to this study, which will allow them 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 bears. MassWildlife, a division of DFG, is currently tracking 10 mother bears with radio collars. Based on last year's breeding data there are five bears likely to have newborn cubs this year.
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.
The Patrick-Murray Administration is in the midst of the largest land conservation effort in the Commonwealth's history, in the past two years protecting 54,000 acres of land across the Commonwealth, including 34 acres in Poland Brook Wildlife Management Area in Conway acquired by DFG in 2008. Last year, programs led by the DFG and MassWildlife protected 8,277 acres of vital fish and wildlife habitat ensuring biodiversity in 43 communities.
"Our research on black bears is important so we learn more about why the population is expanding and how bears in Massachusetts are adapting to live in suburban areas," said Commissioner Griffin. "Scientific study, land conservation and habitat management are keys to improving habitat for many of the Commonwealth's wildlife species, including black bear, moose, wild turkey and many others."
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 to 600 pounds and females from 100 to 400 pounds. In Massachusetts, adult male bears average 230 pounds and female bears average 140 pounds.
Black bears mate between mid-June and mid-July, and 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 their 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 40 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.