Maine Biologists Capture 5,435 pounds of Bear
When Randy Cross appeared a few years ago on Wildfire, the TV talk show hosted by Harry Vanderweide and me, he rolled up his sleeves to show viewers his scars. Each one came with a story about a captured bear. Cross is a great storyteller, and he has lots of stories to tell!
Cross is the bear biologist for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and that puts him in charge of what is widely regarded as the best bear research program in North America. Astonishingly, despite its reputation and importance, the program gets by on a wing and a prayer, with 75 percent of its funding coming from the federal tax on firearms, ammunition, and hunting-related items, and 25 percent from sportsmen who purchase Maine hunting and fishing licenses.
Cross is the only full-time bear biologist. His informative report on the 2011 bear trapping project provides insight into how he gets this important work done.
“The 2011 trapping crew included myself with contractors Dan Wagner, Lisa Bates, and Jared Mitchell, and volunteers Steve Dunham, Mike Ballinger, and Joe Roy,” writes Cross.
Cross and company live-trap bears for their study each year, measuring and weighing each one, and placing a GPS collar on females and other identification markings on males.
Cross’s 2011 report is fascinating. The report and lots of other interesting information about bears are available on the department’s Web site.
“Snares were tripped 263 times resulting in 54 captures of bears, 7 moose, 1 coyote, 1 raccoon, and 1 hare,” he reports. “We captured 37 different bears, 10 of which were new to the study… We caught 2 males over 300 pounds, catching a total of 5,435 pounds of bears for the entire trapping period… We hosted 54 guests on 17 days.”
Now isn’t that a party where you’d like to be a guest! The report didn’t include any new scars on Cross’s arms or chest.
Roy Hugie started Maine’s bear study program in 1975 in cooperation with the Fish and Wildlife Department that took over the project in 1981. Currently they study bears in three areas in northern, north-central and eastern Maine.
Between 75 and 100 radio-collared female bears are monitored each year in the three study areas, and each female bear is visited in its winter den to determine the number of cubs born that year. Cubs stay with their mother for sixteen months, so the den visits also allow Cross to check and tag yearlings.
Bear populations are high right now in Maine, even though production of their traditional favored food source, beechnuts, has plummeted due to disease. According to the department’s bear management report, biologists have found marked differences in reproduction, survival, and recruitment between study areas as well as within study areas over time while habitat and weather conditions change.
Cross reports that, due to this year’s wet and cool spring that created lush vegetation for bears, he had a difficult time baiting and trapping them. “Trapping success was the lowest experience in at least ten years,” he said.
They only got 5,435 pounds of bear!