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Marion Larson

Marion Larson

Outreach Coordinator, MassWildlife

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Hajduk hip deep in snow by den site
Hip deep in the snow is DFW biologist Laura Hajduk and Dave Fuller at a den site located under a fallen tree.

With spring in full swing, black bears have emerged from their dens and MassWildlife biologists finished a busy winter season of locating, tagging and collaring, and counting female black bears and their young at their den sites. Currently, there are 15 female bears wearing radio or GPS collars, most in the Connecticut River Valley, with two in Worcester County. Why are we doing this? Biologists are tracking cub production and adult sow (female) survival and learning how bears are using a landscape that is a patchwork of residential/commercial development as well as large blocks of green spaces throughout the year.

This year, unusually deep snow made snowshoes standard foot gear, but staff still sank in well over a foot looking for den sites using radio and GPS telemetry, hauling equipment and the occasional immobilized adult bear in sleds back to its den. (Some bears flee their dens after biologists dart them with immobilants.)

Hajduk Fuller climbing Holyoke Range in SnowSome sites posed other logistical challenges—a den site on a boulder strewn (talus) slope on the Holyoke Range made for some serious climbing, slipping, and sliding. 

Pictured left are biologists hauling a sled up a steep slope loaded with a 275-pound bear.

On another day, two different bears (one with cubs) denning within a stone’s throw of a major interstate highway were successfully collared and moved to a safer location. 3 cubs in den site-N'hampton by MLarson

Due to traffic safety concerns, this operation involved coordinating with the Environmental Police and State Police. At one point, traffic on Interstate 91 was shut down for five minutes!

Now that spring is here, DFW biologists are prepping barrel traps to capture bears that couldn’t be captured during the winter. They are also looking for new bears to collar in central Massachusetts. Choosing a site and setting up a barrel trap has its own challenges. Hajduk setting up barrel trap

The traps are large, heavy and awkward as illustrated by this image of Laura and a couple of barrel traps. The trap has to be trucked up to the location and wrestled into place, then the baiting and waiting begins. It can take weeks before most bears are comfortable enough to enter the baited barrel and there are no guarantees that a bear will be caught.

It’s easy to locate a barrel trap site for a bear that is already collared. For capturing new bears to collar, the challenge is to find out where bears (and young) are appearing on a regular basis. Bear sighting reports from citizens are very helpful. Anyone in central Massachusetts seeing a bear with cubs or yearlings (we only collar females) on a somewhat regular basis is encouraged to contact our Central District office at (508) 835-3607.

MassWildlife information about bears.

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