June 16, 2019

Maine and New Hampshire Moose Populations Uncertain?

For many years now I have wondered what good wild ungulate management does when it appears to be at least 3 years, and probably closer to 5 years, behind boots on the ground reality. I think much of this blame can be put on “modern technology” and computer modeling, as well as a driving impulse to gather mass amounts of data and then take up to a year or more to analyze it and come up with conclusions. In the meantime, real life is passing by.

Computer modeling has proven itself to be useless, that is, unless one is searching for outcome-based results that fits a narrative and more importantly can be used to prostitute money for “the cause.” And what good, really, is all the time and money spent collecting data when by the time it’s all collected and analyzed so many things have changed on the ground, the data becomes mostly outdated and useless?

But none of this matters much at all if we are dealing with fish and game agencies who refuse to consider all factors that effect the task of managing game populations at “healthy” levels.

If we were to listen to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), Maine moose population is robust and growing, with an estimated population of at least 75,000 critters. Really? Some Maine writers and sportsmen are screaming for the state to give out more moose permits. Perhaps that demand is coming a bit too late.

I contend that perhaps 3-5 years ago, Maine had as many as 75,000 moose but a combination of winter ticks and calf predation by too large populations of black bears and wolf/coyote hybrids, has knocked those numbers down considerably. Boots on the ground consensus everywhere in Maine tells us this to be so. The problem is MDIFW hasn’t caught up with that fact and/or they refuse to consider it because it doesn’t agree with their deathly slow methods of data collecting and plugging that data into fancy algorithms to achieve results. It’s not that the data isn’t necessary or valuable, it’s just things happen faster than collection and calculation and that fact isn’t necessarily being considered.

In New Hampshire, authorities there are “setting the record straight” on the status of their moose. New Hampshire says their moose population is dwindling. Is their’s dwindling while Maine’s is growing?

New Hampshire says that moose ticks and brainworm are having effects on the moose. Authorities say in some regions, New Hamshire is “being hit with the double whammy of both winter tick and brainworm.” They at least admit its a problem but not the only problem. But what’s difficult in the debate about winter moose ticks is the lack of scientific understanding of the tick. It seems just about every so-called, wildlife biologist, simply links increased winter ticks with climate change and that’s not true. But why let scientific research on ticks get in the way of a perfectly good agenda?

It is my opinion that one problem N.H. has is how they determine at what population to target as a manageable moose herd.

The public set the goals for the moose population through a public participation process.

You might need to go back and read that again. While public safety should be a part of the equation in determining how many moose is healthy for the state of New Hampshire, has all science of wildlife management been cast aside in favor of social demands? This may be detrimentally so.

I read today an article about the demise of federal fish hatcheries. One such hatchery in South Dakota, the D.C. Booth National Fish Hatchery, is going to be closed. A group fighting that closure was quoted as saying:

The agency’s [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] mission has evolved from one that oversees wildlife and fish restoration to one that protects the growing number of endangered species and now oversees the expansion of the nation’s “clean energy” revolution.

While perhaps not a direct management effort by public demands, the trend does exist at all agencies nationwide away from scientific management of wildlife in favor of social acceptance, i.e. the pressures by environmental, non governmental agencies well-funded and full of power.

It appears that New Hampshire is at least willing to admit their moose population may not be as healthy as some may have thought, that is those who like to hop in a car and go spot a moose in a swail hole. However, like Minnesota and other states nationwide, never once is the topic of predation by large predators even mentioned. New Hampshire willingly speaks of ticks and brainworm, even the needed reduction of moose to prevent automobile collisions, along with the dreaded topic of climate change, a topic always sure to generate study grants to keep biologists employed. But they will not speak of predators. Why is that? I point toward the above revelation that fish and game agencies aren’t interested in scientific management of wildlife as much as they are appeasing the environmentalists, which include the animal rights and anti-hunting groups.

New Hampshire, like Minnesota, claims they need more studies to determine what’s killing the moose. Really? I think they want to do more studies so they can ask for more money to keep biologists, with an agenda, employed. Minnesota has been “studying” their moose dilemma for about a decade or more and still they refuse, simply refuse, to consider that predators are having any effect.

What is the point of wasting money on studies that are outcome-based? Good, legitimate, scientific research examines all aspects of a problem and is open and willing to consider all influences. When faux scientists put on blinders, because part of their agenda is predator control, or promoting man-caused climate change, causing real science to suffer, it’s not only a tragedy for science but is criminal in its application and administration of monies obtained for research.

All of these so-called studies would be beneficial if the scientists acted like scientists and halted their determination to prove their biased theories accurate, while at the same time stop shutting out the rest of the world and paid attention to what was happening on the ground now, not what you see after collecting data for months, perhaps years and then trying to draw conclusions while reality slipped them by.

Yes, the Maine and New Hampshire moose populations are uncertain and the reason is just as much because of poor management as it is ticks, brainworm, climate change or auto collisions. Scientific research is so agenda driven it is no earthly good.


Top Wolf Scientist Charges Wolf Researchers Have Become Advocates Rather Than Scientists

Dr. David Mech, the man who invented “balance of nature”, refutes his own claim. Says “Balance of Nature” a Myth.

Top Wolf Scientist Charges Wolf Researchers Have Become Advocates Rather Than Scientists
by George Dovel
The Outdoorsman – Bulletin Number 51 – Page 8

Republished on this website with permission from editor/author.

During a May 7, 2010 Boise State University Radio interview, Idaho Fish and Game Predator Biologist Dr. Hilary Cooley stated emphatically that wolves – not hunters – are necessary to manage elk herds.

Speaking with authority, as if she were part of a team of scientists whose research prompted her statements, Cooley stated:

“We saw this in Yellowstone – when we had tons and tons of elk they could change the entire landscape. We saw songbird densities changing, we saw beaver populations changing – everything responds to that and so while some people like to have high, high densities of ungulates, it’s not always good for the rest of the ecosystem.”

What Cooley was referring to are the alleged “trophic cascades” that many ecologists and most conservation biologists now claim are the stabilizing benefits provided to ecosystems by wolves and other top predators. The basic theory is that the top predator (wolf) reduces the number and/or alters the habits of its prey (elk), which provides more habitat for other species such as beaver, song birds and smaller predators.

This revival of the “Balance of Nature” myth promoted by Durward Allen and his graduate student David Mech in their 1963 National Geographic article, began when Robert Payne coined “keystone species” in 1969 and “trophic cascades” in 1980.

In 1985 Mech Admitted Balance-of-Nature is a Myth

Meanwhile after several more years of research with wolves and moose on Isle Royale and wolves and deer in Minnesota, Mech found that his “balance-of-nature claim had zero validity. Both wolves and their prey were in a constant state of changing from population peaks to radical declines, yet Mech waited until 1985 to publish the truth about what was occurring in both states but with different prey species.

And instead of publishing the correction in National Geographic or major news media – or at least in scientific journals – Mech’s startling confession that he was the cause of the balance-of-nature myth appeared only in National Wildlife Vol. 23, No. 1, and in the May 1985 Alaska Magazine. In that article titled, “How Delicate is the Balance of Nature,” Mech wrote, “Far from being ‘balanced,’ ratios of wolves and prey animals can fluctuate wildly – and sometimes catastrophically.”

Several years later, I photocopied the article, including its B&W and color photos, and sent it to the leadership of all 27 organizations in the Idaho Shooting Sports Alliance. But those groups were understandably still so upset with IDFG for letting half of Idaho’s mule deer and thousands of elk die from malnutrition during the 1992-93 winter, they failed to even consider what would happen with wolves 10-20 years down the road.

Misleading Headline: “Wolves Not Guilty”

Because the National Wildlife Federation was promoting wolf recovery, and Mech’s 1985 article emphasized the need to control wolves to prevent the radical swings in populations, his choice of magazines was perhaps understandable. Canadian wolf transplants into Idaho and Wyoming (YNP) would not happen for another 10 years, but the biologists promoting wolves were enlisting all the help they could get from environmental activists to lessen public resistance to restoring wolves.

Twenty years later, Mech’s team of student Yellowstone Park researchers (wolf advocates) issued a news release with the headline, “Wolves Not Guilty,” saying their unfinished research revealed that bears were the major predator of newborn elk and moose calves.

When the study was finally completed, Mech explained that bears killing most newborn elk or moose calves had been documented for several decades. But based on the volume of mail I received from Alaskans who read the “Not Guilty” article, it was too late to change their new opinion that wolves had been wrongly accused of killing elk and moose.

Mech 2008 Testimony Refuted DOW Claims

Mech has always recognized the necessity for state wildlife managers to control wolves that adversely impact either livestock or game populations. And when Defenders of Wildlife and 11 other preservationist groups sued FWS to shut down wolf hunting in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Mech’s May 9, 2008 22-page testimony destroyed every one of their arguments.

The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that federal and state wolf promoters have “been in bed with” for several decades, now oppose the same recovery plans they helped design during the early 1980s. They have parlayed wolf recovery into a never-ending billion-dollar enterprise, and used tainted science and activist judges to support their destructive agenda.

Mech realized that the states’ failure to control wolves to numbers that are biologically sustainable has generated extreme opposition to their very existence in the areas where they are causing problems. The difference between the make-believe world of indoctrinated biologists like Hilary Cooley, and the real world where wolves eventually destroy the wild prey necessary to sustain their numbers, caused Mech to take drastic action in 2011.

On Oct. 26, 2011, Mech submitted an article to the editor of Biological Conservation titled, “Is science in danger of sanctifying the wolf.” He also sent copies to eight wolf scientists for review and suggestions, and on Feb. 29, 2012, the slightly amended article was submitted to Biological Conservation and was accepted for publication on March 12, 2012.

In his article, just before he dropped his bombshell on wolf preservationists who falsely promote the image of the wolf as a saint, Mech mentioned that North America’s wildlife manager, Aldo Leopold, continued to recommend bounties on wolves in 1946 to increase abundance of big game populations. Leopold also warned that extermination of large predators could result in over-browsing.

Propaganda Changed Wolf Image from Devil to Saint

But in 1967 the wolf was listed as endangered and one of the most effective propaganda campaigns of all time began. Mech points out that the image of the wolf changed from a devil to a saint and wolf advocates began to claim that the wolves’ presence was vital to restore healthy “native” ecosystems.

He said that his library has more than 30 books written about wolves and that 27 NGOs have been formed to promote wolf preservation. One of Mech’s reviewers commented on the millions of dollars raised by these groups, and could have commented on the dollars many of them receive for reimbursement of legal fees from the feds each time they sue to halt delisting or hunting.

Mech also said that a large number of researchers have invaded Yellowstone Park with the intention of proving the existence of trophic cascades caused by wolves. Yet he asserts there is not even one YNP study with evidence proving that a cascade actually took place beyond the wolf and its prey.

For example he says the claim that wolves would kill most of the coyotes and replace them with smaller predators has not happened. Instead, after the initial coyote decline they have repopulated the Park with the same number of coyote packs.

Do Wolf Kills Really Benefit Scavengers?

According to Mech the claim that wolves benefit other scavengers by providing more kills ignores the fact that wolves consume most of the prey they kill. If the prey animal died from other causes, the scavengers would have 7-10 times as much meat as is available from a wolf kill.

And he reminds us that as the wolves kill more of the available prey, the scavengers have fewer – not more – animals available for food.

What Really Caused the Restoration of Beavers

Similarly, the claim that wolves killing the elk and/or creating a “landscape of fear” would reduce elk depredation on willows and aspen, which would cascade to restoring beavers, which would, in turn, raise the water table has been highly advertised – but it has never been proved according to Mech.

He points out the reality that there were no beavers in the Northern Range of YNP when wolves were introduced in 1995. He responded to recent unsupported claims that wolves caused beavers to return to the Northern Range and raise the water table with the following excerpt from a recent study:

“What has had little publicity, however, was that the rapid re-occupation of the Northern Range with persistent beaver colonies, especially along Slough Creek, occurred because Tyers of the Gallatin National Forest released 129 beavers in drainages north of the park.”

Mech referred to other research pointing out that the combination of these beaver colonizing in the Park and raising the water table, and a reported 27-day addition to the YNP growing season, were valid reasons for increased growth and height of willows, and aspen. “It should be clear from the above examples that sweeping, definitive claims about wolf effects on ecosystems are premature whether made by the public or by scientists” said Mech.

Mech continued, “Once findings claiming wolf-caused trophic cascades were published, scientists competed to find more. Teams from several universities and agencies swarmed National Parks and churned out masses of papers, most of them drawing conclusions that wolf advocates considered positive toward the wolf.”

He explained that after synthesizing 19 chapters of reviews relating to the ecological role of large carnivores in 2005, a research team concluded, “Scientists will likely never be able to reliably predict cascading impacts on bio-diversity other than prey.” Mech continued, “As one reviewer of this article put it, ecologists (and particularly conservation biologists) do seem obsessed to the point of blindness with predator-induced trophic cascades.”

The extreme bias of their studies is reflected in Mech’s comment that the only wolf study results he can recall that might be considered negative by the public is the 2003 Idaho study by Oakleaf et al who found that in central Idaho, ranchers discovered only one of eight calves that were killed by wolves. That study gained little popular press.

Although Mech candidly named several wolf scientists whose research reports are tainted by their “wolf is a saint” agenda, his closing comments reflect his own agenda. “National Parks are protected from most hunting and trapping, logging, grazing, agriculture, irrigation, predator control, pest management, human habitation, and mining, all of which wreak pervasive, long-term effects on ecosystems.” (emphasis added)

By the time tens of thousands of young biologists and journalists and a hundred million other youngsters have spent 80% of their lives being taught that all human activity destroys healthy ecosystems, they believe that starvation, cannibalism and widespread disease make up a “healthy” ecosystem. Is this the legacy you want to leave to future generations – or are you just too “busy” to care?

Note: This article and many more like it can be found in The Outdoorsman magazine. Please click this link to a PDF page where you can print out a form and subscribe to the magazine. The work of George Doval, editor of The Outdoorsman, is arguably the finest work to be found anywhere in print or online publications.


Background Checks for Scientists

Guest post by Jim Beers

(An article written recently for The Pen, the newsletter of Common Sense Coalition Talk Radio program out of California, Missouri.)

As the debate on requiring background checks for gun sales rages, I submit that background checks should be mandatory for scientists that sell their research to government bureaucracies.

A recent news article in The Washington Post (of all places) describes a former scientist at Johns Hopkins University that became embroiled in the controversy over growing scientific research retractions coinciding with the competition for available government grant dollars.

The tainted and slanted research that was going increasingly unquestioned, concerned cancer drugs and genetic relationships. The scientist found that questioning results based on incomplete testing and ignoring applicable factual references resulted in his being disciplined, his eventually being fired and the suicide of a colleague asked to verify the unverifiable science purported to be reliable.

The number of research articles retracted in the field of biomedical research has increased “tenfold since 1975”. Two thousand of these retracted scientific papers were reviewed and it was determined that “67% were attributable to misconduct, mainly fraud or suspected fraud”. While government grant availability has increased since the 1960’s, when 2 out of 3 requests were funded: today only one out of 5 requests are funded. Because jobs and funding for the researchers are really what is on the line today, shoddy and cheap “science” to give government grant administrators what they want is the only guarantor of future funding preferences.

If potentially human life-threatening aspects of cancer drugs relative to the genetics of those afflicted with cancer can be misrepresented, what is sacred anymore? Eventual lawsuits by wealthy families suspecting misuse of drugs or malpractice as the cause of losing a loved one might well punish these “scientists” publishing misleading and self-serving results. Yet these charlatans are evidently not deterred. If this is so, what about all the environmental/animal “rights” “science” purchased by government since “the 1960’s”?

When “science” tells us that logging “must” be stopped; or grazing is “bad”; or hunting “unbalances the environment”; or predators “balance” the environment; or “native” species “belong” everywhere; or dams “must” be removed; or roads “disturb” grizzly bears; or fatal attacks by predators are the “fault” of those killed; or lethal control of predators is “ineffective”; or pipelines “disturb” species X; or sage grouse are “in danger”; or bats are “disappearing”; or wildfires are “good”; or Sanctuaries and Wilderness are “beneficial”; or that only more federal jurisdiction over water or more federal land ownership or easement control of private property will do X, Y, and Z: other than pandering for more federal funding, what possible down side is there for unscrupulous ”scientists”?

When federally-protected grizzly bears kill hikers, no scientist or bureaucrat is responsible. Ditto when wolves decimate big game herds and force ranchers out of business and diminish the quality of rural life. Ditto when logging communities are decimated and unmanaged forests result in fewer and fewer of the critters supposedly saved by eliminating logging. Ditto when federal lands are closed to use and roads and access only to burn down and kill neighbors while their homes and belonging are destroyed. All the faulty environmental/animal “rights” “science” since “the 1960’s” has bred a national nightmare to rival the corruption of human life-saving biomedical research that has become less and less reliable.

Until and unless the federal-influence spigot to Universities and research organizations is turned way down or off, corruption is inevitable. The spigot won’t be turned off until the US Congress stops funding and writing laws that imagine laws and regulations that are triggered by or act only upon “science”. Think Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Animal Welfare Act, Wilderness Act, and other such laws that absolve all involved humans of any responsibility while pointing always to “science” as the reason and trigger for un-Constitutional and anti-human actions by a government of men supposedly bounded by a Constitution. This is an especially important matter for rural Americans today.

The federal laws will not be amended or repealed until we elect federal legislators that respect the Constitution and have our best interests at heart. Federal Legislators will not do the right thing until State Legislators and Governors stand their ground (think Wyoming and wolves as a role model here). State Legislators and Governors with our best interests at heart come from Local elected officials like Commissioners, Supervisors and Sheriffs. The time to get this food chain going is right now. I won’t repeat that old Chicago canard about “voting early and often” but I will say we have to vote and vote for this aspect of our lives and liberty. Letting bureaucrats and “scientists” rule us is akin to letting Druid priests read bones or Shamans stare into smoke as a basis for national decisions. As Dirty Harry once remarked about his boss’s breath mint “it ‘ain’t’ cutting it”

Jim Beers

13 March 2013
Jim Beers is a retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC. He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC. He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority. He resides in Eagan, Minnesota with his wife of many decades.

Jim Beers is available to speak or for consulting. You can receive future articles by sending a request with your e-mail address to: jimbeers7@comcast.net


Debunk: Predators Kill Only Lame, Sick and Weak Prey Species

I have finally found a written explanation about predator/prey relationships that is easy to sink your teeth into and understand and written by an authority on the subject; Dr. Charles Kay, Wildlife Ecology-Range Management Specialist Utah State University. His article can be found in Muley Crazy Magazine, Jan./Feb. Edition 2013.

Anyone paying any attention to the emotional debates about large predators – wolves and coyotes seem to carry the most irrational emotions – have heard someone, even those supposedly who are authorities, say that wolves/coyotes/large predators are necessary for our ecosystems because they kill only the lame, sick, weak and/or substandard members of the prey species. With the mindless perpetuation of such drivel, we are also told this “sanitary” engineering by predators provides for “healthy” prey species, some even claiming this natural phenomenon limits and reduces certain wildlife diseases because these predators are killing the sick among the prey.

I have always contended that if large predators were intelligent enough to determine the sickly of the species, why aren’t they equally intelligent to pick a good meal rather than one that might taste bad and be full of worms and disease? But I guess maybe that’s another discussion.

What studies that do exist, clearly show that large predators kill their prey/food depending upon several factors, none of which are the result of a predator recognizing they have a sick animal on their hands. Factors include: How easy it is for predators to kill their prey species under normal conditions; the size and killing ability of the predator versus the size and defense capabilities of the prey; how the predator hunts and environmental conditions. Seriously, is this something new? Of course not.

Dr. Kay explains that any prey species that is easily captured and killed, there is no difference in the proportionate killing of healthy vs. ill prey species. As the size and defense capabilities of the predator animal increases, the incidence of prey killed increases mostly do to a reduction of defensive capability.

Kay uses an example of lynx in Europe that will feed on both roe deer and red deer. He explains that roe deer, “are less than half the size of mule deer, while red deer are the same species as our elk.” Roe deer are easier to catch for the lynx and kill without evidence of taking a disproportionate number of sick roe deer. As far as the red deer are concerned, because the animal is bigger and more difficult to catch and take down, lynx tend to target red deer calves in disproportionate numbers to the overall red deer population. A bigger predator, such as a wolf, isn’t choosy between roe deer and red deer and will take either species that is available when hunted with little or no regard to seeking out a sick member of the herd.

All predators hunt differently; some are ambush hunters, some are stalkers that run down their prey, for examples. An ambush hunter isn’t particular or concerned over whether an animal is sick or lame. Essentially they have one shot at their prey, healthy or not. On the other hand, a predator, like a wolf or coyote, track down their prey, sometimes running them down, or perhaps surrounding their target. In this case, opportunism will likely afford the predator a better chance at catching up to and killing a sick or lame prey species. This only makes sense.

As any good scientist would do, Dr. Kay points out information he provided in other research work written about in “Predation and the Ecology of Fear” [see Muley Crazy 10(5): 23-28; 2010]. In this work and subsequent reporting, Kay points out that often times the substandard prey species can become this way due to harassment by predators and humans. Predators torment and harass prey species constantly. Battle weary prey animals then become an easier target and thus the ill health mythology exploited by the predator protectors is not so because it is caused by natural conditions such as physical defects and disease.

And if predators, such as wolves, exist for the function of killing only the lame, diseased and infirm of prey animals, while yielding us a “healthy” ecosystem, how does one explain surplus killing? Surplus killing, which is readily recorded, is when wolves move into a herd of prey and just kill everything they can until they have had enough killing, for no apparent reason than to kill. Some think of it as a learning adventure for the immature dogs in the pack. What I can tell you is that those who protect predators will deny that surplus killing is real.

Depending upon the region in which predator and prey relationships are being examined, one can find many environmental conditions that will effect a predator’s ability to hunt and a prey’s ability to defend themselves or escape. Deep and crusty snow comes to mind, as often prey species such as deer and moose, that use running as an escape, cannot flee so easily and wolves and coyotes easily run them down.

Dr. Kay also debunks the notions that large predators are good to limit or reduce wildlife disease because they pick on the sick prey and not the healthy. He points out that, “Wolf predation has not lowered the incidence of brucellosis in elk within the Yellowstone ecosystem.” Also, “In Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park, bison are infected with both brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis. Yet more than 50 years of wolf predation has not lowered the incidence of either disease.” Again, “Cape buffalo are preyed upon by African lions and spotted hyenas, both formidable predators, yet predation has not slowed the spread of bovine tuberculosis in Kruger’s cape buffalo population.” Finally, “predation by black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes has not slowed the spread of chronic wasting disease.”

In addition to revealing that predation is not changing the incidences of disease, Dr. Kay tells his readers that some predators, such as wolves and coyotes, carry more than 30 diseases that they are infecting ungulate populations with, and creating for potential harm and possible death to humans. Certainly a predator spreading so many diseases cannot and is not making for a healthy prey population, but an unhealthy one.

Proper control of predators is the proven and scientific method of keeping healthy prey and predator species, not some myth that these predators are like trained physicians making house calls to keep all their food supply healthy. Let’s not pretend.

It is certainly one thing to want to protect your favorite wild animal but at what expense? Do we risk the health of humans while hiding behind some notion that predators are sanitation engineers? As Dr. Kay says, “the next time some wolf biologist or pro-wolf advocate tries to tell you that predators only kill the lame, the sick, and the infirm, or that predators help control disease, listen politely, or not, and then have a good laugh! What you do next is up to you, but remember, the federal government has warned all its employees, who normally handle wolves or wolf scat, about Echincoccus granulosus, but has yet to pass a similar warning on to the general public.”


What Drives Maine’s Black Bears to Hibernate?

There have been some interesting discussions over the past couple of weeks or so about Maine’s black bear hunting season and the fact that hunters seems to be having good success and large bears are being taken. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) predicted a higher success rate for hunters this season and they attributed it to the lack of natural food. To go along with this claim, the same predictors said that bears would eat early, hibernate early and exit their dens early come spring.

If interested you can read the articles I wrote about this topic here and here.

It made little sense to me that black bears would show up in record-breaking sizes in a year when there was no natural food, as claimed by MDIFW scientists. I was also troubled by statements made that what drives bears into hibernation is lack of food. This prompted me to go on a multiple day search and rescue mission to see what I could see as it pertained to scientific studies, available to anyone with a computer (and a few extra dollars). What I discovered is that some of my suspicions were confirmed and some of what MDIFW scientists presented was confirmed.

The first major thing I discovered is that most all the studies on bears and black bears specifically, all deal with the physiological affects on bears when hibernating. Not surprisingly, it also appeared these studies were motivated by a desire to learn more so that one day humans can choose (or be forced) to hibernate.

The short of it is that little exists that specifically addresses why bears hibernate, i.e. is there something physiological that takes place or is it as MDIFW biologists state, that it’s all about the food supply? The answer is both.

In some studies, like this one on “The Comparative Anatomy of Eating“, I found statements not unlike several other studies not specific to the forces driving bears to hibernation:

Their diet is dominated by primarily succulent lent herbage, tubers and berries. Many scientists believe the reason bears hibernate is because their chief food (succulent vegetation) not available in the cold northern winters.

It appears as though what actually goes on with a bear in hibernation, if I can put this in words most people, including myself, will understand, is that a bear changes its metabolism. The effects are a myriad of things and the timing and degree to which such changes takes place seem to a product of diet and length and depth of hibernation, among other things.

In another study about how glucose responses by the bears with natural and manipulated amounts, still seem to be regulated by the bear:

Furthermore, the apparent increase in glucose utilization at the end of hibernation when fat stores are nearly exhausted suggests a continuum of metabolic activity from early to late hibernation with a transition to the active phase by the end of hibernation.

All very interesting but what drives the bear to head for the den? It was difficult, at best, to find anything definitive but I think the general consensus was that “something” triggers a black bear’s natural physiological response to increase fat supplies. During this time period, called the hyperphagic stage (transitioning from normal activity to hibernation), the bear naturally begins a gradual metabolic (if that be the correct term) change that will eventually lead them to their favorite winter hibernation local.

It also appears that the time in which a bear decides to actually head into the den can be influenced by whether or not there remains any food to eat. This is part of the equation but not all of it.

In a study titled, “Environmental Relationships and the Denning Period of Black Bears in Tennessee“, we get a glimpse at perhaps what that “something” is that begins to transition toward hibernation:

Den entry and strong fidelity to dens by all instrumented bears indicated that the intensity of dormancy did not differ from that in northern regions; however, duration of dormancy was considerably shorter. Cumulative effects of increased precipitation and lower maximum and higher minimum temperatures, which correspond to passage of a low pressure weather front, provided a proximate stimulus to enter dens. Food supply also appeared to affect denning in a proximal manner because bears denned earlier in years with fair to poor mast yields than in years with excellent mast yields.

The study further explains what determines the timing of denning:

Emergence dates were less strongly correlated with environmental factors. Ultimate synchronization of denning behavior with the environment is best explained by a circannual (endogenous) rhythm; this rhythm is easily shortened or lengthened allowing flexibility depending on environmental variation and the ecology of a species. Such a rhythm encompasses the observed variation in environmental factors affecting the denning period of bears over their broad geographic range and diverse ecological conditions.

It does appear that it’s not just food that determines when denning will occur but a myriad of environmental factors.

But why are Maine’s bears so fat when there’s a poor supply of natural food available? Generally speaking I am not convinced that they are. As the study suggests, it may be proximal, in that the reason we are seeing more bigger, fatter bears is because they got fat from eating bait put out by hunters and guides.

Maine allows baiting to begin approximately one month before opening of the hunting season. One MDIFW biologist told John Holyoke, at the Bangor Daily News, that one bear he was aware of gained 65 pounds in 16 days. If that’s true, then for 30 days of feasting at a bait station, one can imagine the amount of weight a hungry, greedy and dominating bear can put on.

So, are when then to conclude that what we are seeing at the tagging stations is not indicative to what the rest of the bear population, that is those without access to bait barrels, is like? The data being collected by biologists on the bears at tagging stations, is this good, usable and representative data of the general condition of all of Maine’s bears?

With the information I have gathered, some of which I have shared, I can concur that the timing of when black bears decide to go to sleep is partially driven by food supply. I do have concerns about whether big, fat bears is a real representation of the condition of the population in general.