May 27, 2019

Bears are Bigger Killers Than Thought

*Editor’s Note* – When media crafts these headlines, it would be nice if they were a bit more accurate and explicit in whom they are referring when they write: “Bears are Bigger Killers Than Thought.” Thought by whom? I didn’t think they were sparse eaters of such things as moose, caribou and even cannibalism. Perhaps maybe, scientists are catching on a little bit instead of relying on Bambi and Yogi Bear to determine who kills and eats what.  

Overall, the bears [just seven of them] killed an average of 34.4 moose and caribou calves over 45 days. That’s far higher than average kill rates from previous studies using other methods, including aerial observation. Compared with one 1988 study in which scientists counted an average of 5.4 moose calf kills from the air in a different part of Alaska, the new study found an average of 13.3 moose calf kills. The new study also found wide variation in the number of calves killed by any one bear, with one killing 44 calves in 25 days and another killing just seven in 27 days.<<<Read More>>>

I wonder what cameras on wolves would reveal?

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Bears Return to Waldo County – Deer Going Missing

I was recently reading an article in the Kennebec Journal about how black bears have returned to Waldo County, in Maine, and the surrounding area. Unity College, located in this same region, has been conducting bear studies in the region.

The article states that because all the trees had been cut down by the late-1800s, there were no bears to be found. In addition, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) claims that in 2004, Maine had 23,000 bears. By 2010, that estimate had grown to 30,000.

As part of the study undertaken by Unity College, it appears that bears have returned substantially into the region of their bear study – enough so that some seem to lament the idea that in one area there have been 18 auto collisions with bears since 1992. That’s 23 years to the mathematically challenged, or less than one bear a year. Regardless, bears are back in this study area making it easier (I think) for researchers to conduct their studies.

But what’s missing from this information?

Thanks to a friend, I took a snapshot of the region – of 27 towns surrounding the bear study area. I also chose to compare the years 2005 (23,000 bears statewide) and 2014 (at least 30,000 bears and the last year of deer harvest statistics available.)

I listed all the towns, along with the harvest report of the number of deer tagged in each town. For those who might not know, by law you are required to report the town in which you harvested your deer.

I totaled the deer harvest for the 27 towns for 2005 = 1852 deer. I then totaled the same 27 towns for 2014 = 1524 deer. That’s a loss of 328 or approximately 20%.

I’ll let readers conclude what they will. This is not a scientific study but it should at least present readers with some questions. We know that bear have a substantial impact on the deer population, especially on spring fawns. It has been surmised that bears might be having a bigger impact on the deer herd in Maine than coyotes, bobcats and Canada lynx.

Do the numbers I present reflect at least some of the impacted loss of deer hunting harvest opportunities for sportsmen? I would say it does but it is difficult to pin down exactly how much. Perhaps the study could be expanded (if they don’t know already) to determine the number of deer fawns that are being killed by the growing population of bears.

Regardless of what I might present for numbers and food for thought, the anti hunting rhetoric will continue, repeating such things as loss of deer habitat, global warming, global cooling, climate change, poaching – anything except predator destruction.

Perhaps I should just take a minute to explain to readers who don’t know how bears can and do impact deer populations. I have heard, often, people ask how can a few fawn deer disrupt a deer herd. Simple, really.

For deer to maintain a certain number of deer, the math is simple. There must be the same amount of fawn deer survive their first year of life, as adult deer are lost in total mortality. If fawn survival, called fawn recruitment, is larger than total adult deer mortality, the herd will grow. Conversely, if too few fawn live, the herd shrinks. If this scenario persists, the herd may reach a point where it cannot regenerate. Some wildlife researchers refer to this as a predator pit.

If a peek at these numbers hold any kind of correlation as to what might be happening statewide, i.e. from 23,000 bears to 30,000 bears, the increase and continued growth of black bears, has to be having some effect on Maine’s deer herd.

I have called for bigger bear harvests, and I know MDIFW continues to state that bear harvest numbers are not reaching management goals. But, MDIFW doesn’t seem to be doing much about it. Many have called for a Spring bear hunt. I’m not sure who is actually wielding the most power – the Maine Guides who don’t want to spoil their cash cow late Summer bear hunts, or the Environmentalists who say Spring hunts endanger cub bears who might lose their mother. MDIFW could also increase the bag limits. Currently hunters can take one bear with a gun and one bear with a trap. Trapping bear is not a popular sport and thus, the increase in bag limits from this amounts to nothing. Perhaps, at least in some regions, managers need to tell the guides that science must prevail, and up the limit to two bears until the population goals are reached and stabilized.

Protecting one species, at the peril of another is irresponsible but we are seeing it more and more. It was told to me, by someone who mostly or partly opposes the Unity College study, that the real purpose of the study is to create new wildlife managers who see protecting large predators as more important than sustaining and perpetuating game hunting and trapping. Sadly, this is at least partly true as new-science Science is taking over the colleges that teach wildlife management.

2005DeerHarvest

2014DeerHarvest

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Maine college’s bear study at end of funding

The study allows Unity students to bait and trap bears in central Maine and collar and track them to learn about their range, habitat, reproduction and other factors. The study program has caught 23 bears since 2013 and has worked with state authorities to collar and release two additional bears that were orphans.

Source: Maine college’s bear study at end of funding – News – fosters.com – Dover, NH

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Maine: Unity College Bear Study – Year 1

Based on our limited, preliminary data, bears in the UCBS study area seem to be growing faster than their counterparts in MDIFW’s Northern and Downeast parts of the state. Also, initial radiotelemetry data suggest that UCBS females have larger home ranges and move more than those in MDIFW’s study areas. Hopefully, as we continue the study, we will gather enough data to determine if these differences are real, and define any bear management implications.<<<Read the Entire Study>>>

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Copter Crash During Bear Research: The Story in a Story

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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