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Outdoors enthusiasts encouraged to report sightings of bear dens

(Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo) A bear selected for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ ongoing bear management project will be sedated and fitted with a collar and ear tags, and biologists will collect data before carefully returning the bear to its den, where it will remain throughout the winter months.

By Daily News staff

While you’re enjoying time outdoors this fall and winter, wildlife officials in Michigan and Wisconsin encourage you to keep an eye open for black bear dens.

“Finding winter den locations is an important component to managing black bear populations, and we need hunter, trapper and landowner assistance to add new den sites to the program in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula,” said Mark Boersen, Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist at the DNR Roscommon Customer Service Center. “Currently, we are monitoring six bears from the ground and aircraft using radio tracking equipment.”

Depending on their location, bears typically enter dens in November and December. They tend to select dens in locations that provide shelter from the elements, which can include areas with dense vegetation, rock crevices, fallen trees or excavated holes. Bear dens may look like brush piles covered in snow or excavated holes in the ground, both having an icy opening to vent fresh air.

You spotted a den.What’s next?

(Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources photo) Cubs cannot yet regulate their own temperature, so bear den researchers in Wisconsin keep them warm while staff fit a GPS collar on the mother bear.

If you’re in the vicinity of a potential den site, stay quiet and listen for any sounds coming from within. You may be able to hear cubs nursing or crying.

If you believe you have found a bear den, keep a safe distance away and avoid disturbing the den or the bears inside. Record the location, using GPS coordinates if possible, and report the information.

In the Upper Peninsula, the DNR contact is Cody Norton at 906-202-3023 or NortonC3@Michigan.gov.

In Wisconsin, go to the DNR’s black bear den submission form at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7DSMFZS.

After receiving a report of a denned bear, Michigan DNR biologists will determine if the animal is a good candidate for joining its ongoing project. A bear selected for the program will be sedated and fitted with a collar and ear tags.

Biologists will collect information from the bear including the sex, weight, body measurements and reproductive history, and will remove a small, nonfunctional tooth to acquire a DNA sample and determine the bear’s age.

Upon completion of the short procedure, biologists will carefully return the bear to its den, where it will remain throughout the winter months.

Anyone who finds a bear den is encouraged to leave it alone. It is illegal to disturb a bear den or disturb, harm or molest a bear in its den. Those who think they have found a den should report it and allow DNR biologists to further investigate.

Wisconsin’s Black Bear Litter and Diet Survey, now entering its third year of data collection, will generate updated estimates of black bear reproductive rates within each of the state’s bear management zones. These updated estimates will improve the accuracy of the population models used in each zone.

Additionally, researchers are investigating a possible connection between the consumption of human food by bears and bear reproduction success, as diet can affect cub survival rates and litter sizes.

“The reports we receive from the public are an essential piece of this project,” said Dr. Jennifer Price Tack, Wisconsin DNR large carnivore and elk research scientist. “Obviously, people don’t find bear dens every day, so it is important that people report them to us when they find them. Den reports help us meet sample size requirements for the study, which will increase the accuracy of black bear population estimates.”

Helpful information to report to the Wisconsin bear research team includes:

— GPS coordinates of the den.

— Photos of the den, ideally showing it relative to its surroundings, from a safe distance (approximately 30 yards).

— Description of the den site and surrounding area, including landmarks.

— Any information on the bear(s) and bear activity near the site.

After reports are filed, Price Tack and her Wisconsin team will work with den reporters and landowners to visit the sites and determine if the dens are safe, accessible and active prior to any decision to survey. The research team may be unable to visit every reported den location this season. Dens that are known to be currently occupied will be prioritized.

The Black Bear Litter and Diet Survey team will continue to survey dens for the next six to seven years. Over that time, the research team hopes to place tracking collars on at least 100 sows across Wisconsin’s bear management zones, with approximately 20 collars per zone. Thus far, the team is on pace to achieve their sample-size target, but they will need new reports each year to meet their benchmark.

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