July 16, 2018

Copter Crash During Bear Research: The Story in a Story

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Reports coming out of Maine say a helicopter being used for a bear research program at Unity College crashed near the site of a black bear study area. No real serious injuries were reported.

Below is a map showing the area where the black bears are being studied.

bearstudyarea

One report from the Bangor Daily News says that, “during the early stages of the Unity study, seven different bears were captured a total of 10 times.”

I would suppose that to most readers nothing here seems out of the ordinary, other than the helicopter crash. I say that because I would have thought nothing any further until I received what I thought was interesting information from one of my readers.

The information I received came from a man who says he hunted this area for more than 20 years. During that 20 years he says he perhaps remembers seeing evidence of a black bear once. Hunting with a guide on and near Frye Mountain, the guide saw one bear track.

My source tells me that he and his wife hike the many trails in this area often in spring, summer and fall and never saw evidence of bear. In addition: “Two-three years ago just after the snow left _______ and I walked the 4 miles from Route 220 to the end of the Walker Ridge Road and back. Never saw a track of anything but a Red Fox. Two decades ago the number of deer tracks would have been in the many dozens.”

The reader told me that he hasn’t hunted this region for about a decade because, “the deer population has declined 50 – 80% and the number of hunters has increased exponentially as the deer further north have evaporated.”

If one was to examine the bear harvest map provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) for the year 2011 (2012 has yet to be made available), it appears to me, in examining the map to show the approximate study area with the harvest map, no bears were taken there.

The point of all this is where historically there have been essentially no bears living, there now are plenty. In addition to the comment that “during the early stages of the Unity study, seven different bears were captured a total of 10 times”, earlier on the day of the copter crash, one of the collared studied bears was struck and killed by a car.

With anecdotal evidence that more than one well-experienced outdoors person never saw any bears in this region for years, isn’t it proof that with researchers capturing 7 different bears 10 different times, that the bear population in Maine is growing rapidly and perhaps out of control? At least it is in the study area.

On the ground reports say that the deer population in this area has dropped off significantly. The reader admits that one of the reasons that he stopped deer hunting this area was because more hunters moved in due to a vanishing deer herd farther to the north. While this act alone more than likely has contributed to the reduction of deer in this area, one has to believe that with this many bears, where once there were none, the killing of fawns in the spring by bears will ensure that deer numbers in this area will certainly not increase and we may be seeing the beginning of a time when the bears will drive the deer population to unsustainable levels.

Compared to the entire state of Maine, this study area is very small and we can see clearly that there are numerous bears here now. What is going on around the rest of the state?

Earlier today I wrote about Vermont’s problems with bears, where officials say they have more bears now than ever before. Vermont at least recognizes this and is trying to do something about extending the bear hunting season and finding ways to get more hunters interested in hunting the bruins.

What is Maine doing? Maine’s deer herd has been in trouble. Efforts at coyote control are sure to help some and from my own experiences this summer and reports from many people, it seems there are more deer around than have been seen in a few years but Maine has miles to go before deer will return to acceptable levels. This will be difficult to accomplish with too many predators, like bears and coyotes.

It’s time for Maine to extend the bear season and get rid of the extra fee to hunt bears outside of the November deer hunting season. If it’s difficult to get hunters to chase bears anyway, trying to soak them for money in order to do it, is absurd.

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