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DNR Officials seek to replace No. 4003 for bear study

This bear and her annual group of cubs have been studied by DNR officials and Bemidji High School students for four years. The bear was killed by a hunter this fall and DNR officials would like to find another bear to replace her in the study. Photo submitted by Karen Noyce of the DNR

This fall a hunter near Clearwater Lake northwest of Bemidji shot a 12-year-old female bear during the fall hunting season.

What he didn't know at the time was that the bear was collared and had been part of a DNR and Bemidji High School study for the past four years.

The collar was obscured by fur and was not visible to the hunter. Had the hunter been able to see the collar he would have passed on the shot, according to DNR bear research biologist Dave Garshelis.

"It was perfectly legal for the hunter to take this bear," Garshelis said. "He didn't know it was a collared bear and he wouldn't have shot it had he seen the collar."

For the past four years the bear, which was given the number 4003, had been studied in its den by DNR officials and Kris VanWilgen-Hammitt's environmental science class. Each winter the bear was tranquilized and had its weight and the weight of its cubs recorded.

"A denning bear provided students an ideal opportunity to learn about hibernation physiology and wildlife research," Garshelis said. "Students gain an understanding of how and why we do research, and also appreciate the humane handling of a large, wild animal.

"This was not a huge bear in terms of research but it was huge in terms of education."

No. 4003 was unusual in a couple of ways, according to Garshelis.

"It was very unique looking," he said. "During the last 30 years I've handled more than 600 bears and this was the only one I've ever seen that had gold colored hair around her eyes."

The bear also had a knack for delivering cubs.

"The average litter for a bear is 2.6 cubs," Garshelis said. "In 2007 she had five cubs in the den and in 2008 she had four cubs. Last winter she also had four cubs."

All of the five cubs in 2007 were abnormally small, weighing between two and three pounds, and none of them survived the summer. When they were weighed the cubs should have tipped the scale at four to six pounds.

In 2008 three of the cubs were normal weight and they survived. One, however, was a runt and that cub did not make it to the den the next winter.

Last year all four cubs were normal in terms of size and, even though mom isn't around to instruct them on the ways of the woods, Garshelis believes that the yearlings will be able to take care of themselves.

"The fact that she was able to produce litters of four and five cubs, even though she wasn't a huge bear, made her special," Garshelis said. "During the past four years when we studied her in the den she weighed 188 pounds, 197 pounds, 175 pounds and 183 pounds. And 183 pounds is not a big bear.

"What we learned from her is that litter size is not dependent upon the weight of a bear. We learned that even a normal-sized bear or a light-weight bear can have large litters," Garshelis added.

No. 4003 also was not an old bear.

"At 12 years of age this bear was in the prime of her life," Garshelis said. "In the wild they can live to their mid- to late-20s and some can live well into their 30s."

Garshelis is looking for a bear to replace No. 4003 as a study animal and anyone who knows of a bear denning within an hour drive of Bemidji is asked to contact him at his Grand Rapids office (218-327-4146) or officials of the Bemidji DNR Area Wildlife Office (218-308-2348).

"Ideally we would like to have another female because they tend to stick around," Garshelis said. "No. 4003 had a different den each year but they were all on the west side of Clearwater Lake. Females would also have cubs that we could study.

"Males are less likely to stay in an area year after year," Garshelis continued. "Some male bears have ranges that cover 400 square miles.

"A hunter four years ago stumbled across No. 4003 and it turned out to be a great study animal. Hopefully we can find another bear out there that can take its place."

Y pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

This fall a hunter near Clearwater Lake northwest of Bemidji shot a 12-year-old female bear during the fall hunting season.

What he didn't know at the time was that the bear was collared and had been part of a DNR and Bemidji High School study for the past four years.

The collar was obscured by fur and was not visible to the hunter. Had the hunter been able to see the collar he would have passed on the shot, according to DNR bear research biologist Dave Garshelis.

"It was perfectly legal for the hunter to take this bear," Garshelis said. "He didn't know it was a collared bear and he wouldn't have shot it had he seen the collar."

For the past four years the bear, which was given the number 4003, had been studied in its den by DNR officials and Kris VanWilgen-Hammitt's environmental science class. Each winter the bear was tranquilized and had its weight and the weight of its cubs recorded.

"A denning bear provided students an ideal opportunity to learn about hibernation physiology and wildlife research," Garshelis said. "Students gain an understanding of how and why we do research, and also appreciate the humane handling of a large, wild animal.

"This was not a huge bear in terms of research but it was huge in terms of education."

No. 4003 was unusual in a couple of ways, according to Garshelis.

"It was very unique looking," he said. "During the last 30 years I've handled more than 600 bears and this was the only one I've ever seen that had gold colored hair around her eyes."

The bear also had a knack for delivering cubs.

"The average litter for a bear is 2.6 cubs," Garshelis said. "In 2007 she had five cubs in the den and in 2008 she had four cubs. Last winter she also had four cubs."

All of the five cubs in 2007 were abnormally small, weighing between two and three pounds, and none of them survived the summer. When they were weighed the cubs should have tipped the scale at four to six pounds.

In 2008 three of the cubs were normal weight and they survived. One, however, was a runt and that cub did not make it to the den the next winter.

Last year all four cubs were normal in terms of size and, even though mom isn't around to instruct them on the ways of the woods, Garshelis believes that the yearlings will be able to take care of themselves.

"The fact that she was able to produce litters of four and five cubs, even though she wasn't a huge bear, made her special," Garshelis said. "During the past four years when we studied her in the den she weighed 188 pounds, 197 pounds, 175 pounds and 183 pounds. And 183 pounds is not a big bear.

"What we learned from her is that litter size is not dependent upon the weight of a bear. We learned that even a normal-sized bear or a light-weight bear can have large litters," Garshelis added.

No. 4003 also was not an old bear.

"At 12 years of age this bear was in the prime of her life," Garshelis said. "In the wild they can live to their mid- to late-20s and some can live well into their 30s."

Garshelis is looking for a bear to replace No. 4003 as a study animal and anyone who knows of a bear denning within an hour drive of Bemidji is asked to contact him at his Grand Rapids office (218-327-4146) or officials of the Bemidji DNR Area Wildlife Office (218-308-2348).

"Ideally we would like to have another female because they tend to stick around," Garshelis said. "No. 4003 had a different den each year but they were all on the west side of Clearwater Lake. Females would also have cubs that we could study.

"Males are less likely to stay in an area year after year," Garshelis continued. "Some male bears have ranges that cover 400 square miles.

"A hunter four years ago stumbled across No. 4003 and it turned out to be a great study animal. Hopefully we can find another bear out there that can take its place."

pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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