Daily Log #3

June 21st
Today was a switch day which meant both teams were on in the morning. George brought donuts in and there was a team meeting to fill in the incoming team on the goings on of the last six days.  Given that I am on the support team I didn’t go into the field afterwords but instead I stayed back in “The Bear Cave” with Leon Burman, my counter part on the other team, who filled me in on the newest developments in Troy and Detroit our newest focus areas. We spent the rest of the morning looking at satellite images and discussing the best possible locations for pre-baits and catching up on paperwork.

In the afternoon while the rest of the team set pre-baits and moved the culvert trap; I went and hunted down some wild signatures. I met some nice people and managed to get permission from three more landowners along our Troy-Detroit loop. I also went exploring on our newly acquired land and met a very young and indignant porcupine. In general on a new piece of land I try and look for canopy thickness, what stage of succession the forest is, and any of half a dozen other factors we take into account when we set a pre-bait. After that it was back to “The Bear Cave” to finish up the days paperwork.

-Evan Donoso, Support Team

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Daily Log #2

15 June

Today was a routine day at the bear study. I went out to Leonard Woods in the UTV to check seven trap sites and six pre-bait sites. All seven of the trap sites were clear with no signs of bear activity. The pre-bait sites had some non-target activity. I replaced several of donut bags at trail mix bags at the sites as well as put out more anise lure at the sites.

Yesterday the bear study team had decided to try a method that will cut back on non-target activity. By using this method we will be able to clearly determine that it was actual bear activity in that area. The method is a five gallon bucket filled half way with honey. The cover is secured to the top and the bucket itself is attached to a tree using wire. I decided to put out two buckets, one at a trap site and one at a pre-bait site. The trap site had seen plenty of non-target activity so I wanted to determine if there was really any bear activity there or if we should pull the traps and turn the site back into a pre-bait site. The other site was a new pre-bait that we set last night and I figured it would be best to focus the new method on a newer site.

The rest of the day was spent prepping and resupplying for the next work day. This consisted of refueling the vehicles, filling donut bags, and paperwork.

Kevin Miller, Capture Team

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Daily Log #1

This morning I checked traps and baits in the new side-by-side ATV affectionately nicknamed “the bearmobile”. Most of the sites I visited had no bear activity present although several had been nibbled on by non-targets, likely squirrels and raccoons. One trap site I visited, Bullwinkle (named for a large pile of moose scat on the way in), was tripped when I got there. The spring arm was up and the cable’s loop had been thrown off to the side. There was only a small indentation where the trigger had been, leading me to believe something smaller than a bear had been there. Upon further inspection of the site I noticed a curly white hair caught in the loop. This confirmed that it was likely a raccoon that had triggered the set. Unfortunately, the trail camera that was placed facing the trap had no pictures on it due to an SD card error. I fixed the camera and reset the trap making it back to HQ by 10am.
Once the paperwork was all filled out, the other team leader, Jonah Gula, and I headed back out to scout out an area that two of our radio-collared bears have been spending a lot of time recently. We drove the bearmobile in as far as we could and walked the rest of the way through thickets of young growth, moss and ferns until we found a beautiful bog. We had to be pretty careful about where we stepped because some parts were as deep as two or three feet. It was surprisingly open when we finally stopped walking and several paths seemed to wind throughout the area. We even noticed a couple ferns that had been bent over before we got there, presumably by UC014, our video-collared male. We might be able to place a couple new baits along paths leading into the bog we discovered. They say you learn something every day, well today I learned that just because it looks like a good place to step, doesn’t mean it is and that bogs hide mud under the water capable of sucking in the boots of unsuspecting bear enthusiasts; all in all it was a great day.

-Kari Lemelin, Team Leader.

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Applications Now Being Accepted for Summer 2014 Bear Study Internship Positions

The Unity College Bear Study is currently accepting applications for the summer 2014 internship. Positions are open to currently enrolled Unity College students for the Capture Team and the Support Team. Housing will be provided as well as a $500 stipend.

It is an amazing opportunity to conduct hands-on research with real-world impact on black bears in Maine. We hope you’ll join the team!

For specifics internship positions on the Capture Team and the Support Team, please refer to the documents below. For more information, please contact George Matula at gmatula@unity.edu.


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Unity College Bear Study First Year Final Report


Below is a link to the Unity College Bear Study First Year Final Report written by Unity College Associate Professor George Matula and Lisa Bates. This report recaps how the study was originally initiated and gives an overview of the first year of activities by the Unity College Bear Study team.

FirstYearUSBCReport_ 1-9-14

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One Bear Under My Belt – By Jonah Gula


I remember when a bear study was just a developing idea at the beginning of the fall 2012 semester. Admittedly, I never thought George’s hair-brained scheme would amount to what it has. Watching the project evolve has been fun and enlightening, especially seeing what it takes to start an institutional research study. Our summer field work seemed a long way off when I was chosen to work on the study in February. The prep work kept everyone busy, but I couldn’t help but look ahead to when we would begin capturing bears.

As an aspiring wildlife biologist, I have put a lot of effort and time into exploring the wilderness and tracking animals, but haven’t done anything as exciting as trapping black bears. Of course I had an idealized scenario in my head of how my first capture and handling would go down, and each morning as we checked our trapline I prepared myself for seeing a bear in one of our traps. But after one and a half weeks of setting traps and baiting with no captures, I couldn’t help but be discouraged. Our window of opportunity for trapping is a little over a month, and every day without a capture is a disappointment. Just when I thought I couldn’t be more down, I received the calls and texts of a small bear in one of my traps.

I was ecstatic, of course! However, I was eager more than anything…eager to see how my first handling would play out. More importantly, I was asking the million-dollar question: is this bear a female? I hoped so. I was excited to deploy one of our five GPS collars that I had spent so much time programming. When I walked into the trapsite, I was excited but not nearly as excited as I imagined I would be.

After the bear was immobilized and we moved in to handle it, I was still very collected. I was waiting for the moment that I handled it for my heart rate to increase and my excitement to explode. I’ll never forget when Lisa Bates, our assistant project coordinator for the Bear Study, asked me to help her move the bear out of the mud. As I helped pick it up, it was sort of a surreal moment, as corny as it sounds. But it wasn’t a moment of excitement; it was more of a “this is actually happening” moment.

I remained calm, despite having just carried a bear! Now it was time to get stuff done, though. First thing’s first: we sexed it. FEMALE! That was a bit of a relief! It’s important to closely monitor the animal’s condition under anesthesia, so I took its rectal temperature as my teammates got to work on finding a pulse, pulling a tooth, and tattooing her lip. I’m not going to lie – sticking a thermometer up a bear’s butt was not the first thing I imagined I would do, but I realized how crucial it was to the bear’s health as we worked on her. I proceeded with what I hope will become a regular routine: checking for a chest blaze, pulling hair, monitoring breaths, ear tagging, and attaching the collar – all the things I’ve wanted to do for so long! Her weight was estimated at around 100 pounds, so a GPS collar was too heavy. I was disappointed, but all was not lost! We have VHF collars for smaller bears like this one. While I was upset that we couldn’t deploy a GPS collar, I knew that the VHF collar would allow me to track her using telemetry in the Fall when I continue work on the study as a project assistant.

We began to take physiological measurements, but the bear started to react, which meant she was slowly coming out of anesthesia. In order for her to wake up smoothly, we ceased measurements and packed up our gear. As the group came out of the woods and we set the equipment down, it hit me: I had one bear under my belt. And oddly enough I was completely cool and collected, something that I still can’t figure out. Perhaps it was because there was work to be done and there was no time for excitement, but that’s just a theory. I guess I’m just a strange one. Or maybe it’s just all in a day’s work.

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Beaver and the Perfect Tree – By Rose Zoller

I wondered what enraptured a bear. The childhood tales of honey and berries that I was always told seem to still make sense. I wondered as I signed up to bait these wild creatures; what would lure a bear to the specific location that I chose? Well, I can’t say it surprised me but the smell sure did. The answer to my curiosity was beaver. I believed baiting was just that simple; drag a beaver out into the woods and eventually, hopefully, a bear would feast on it. Sounds right, doesn’t it? Well it was a little more complicated.

The first time I went out with Lisa Bates, one of the Unity College Bear Study leaders, we were scouting potential land and she just pulled over and sprinted into the woods like she knew where she was going. I followed through the initial layer of brush to see her constantly running from tree to tree, circling them, and pointing until she found it: the perfect tree. From this point on, I knew that I had to take a different view on this whole project. Everything had to be thought out; bears were wild animals but trapping them required technique. Every minute detail is important in catching a bear because there are so many unpredictable factors.

Before you do anything, you have to obtain landowner permission. Without land to bait bear, the study wouldn’t exist. We scoured Waldo and Kennebec Counties for bear sightings and bear habitat. This is the most time-consuming part of the process. So far, obtaining landowner information has been very successful and we, as a team, are very grateful for the locals’ cooperation and support.

Next you scout the land to find a suitable area. Now let me tell you, the land is not always suitable but you work with what you’ve got. I can’t count the numerous times we have had to trudge through bogs and thick brush. It took me three days to realize I had to purchase rubber boots; that’s when all three pairs of shoes I owned were soaked through.  So by this time, you’re in the woods and you’re looking for the “perfect tree.” You would think that we would just look for a tree that is easy to set a trap on but what we are really looking for is a spot that is safe for the bear.

Now that the tree is found, we are back to the beaver. Why beaver? It’s a bit more odorous than the usual carcass, and that’s exactly what we need. The beaver is considered curiosity bait, as well as the skunk lure. Sites consist of more than beaver, though. When you want a bear you have to realize that they don’t all always go for the same food. Curiosity baits are good for times of food abundance; and for when there isn’t, we have food scents— bags of donuts drowned in grease and anise. It seems that there is plenty of food in the woods this year, which is good for the bears, more work for us.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first bait site. There I was, at my first property. I had never even seen a bear, but I was ready to catch one; armed with a rather large beaver and skunk. We questioned everything and scouted most of the land, but the answer was simple: right off the edge of a farmer’s field, down a small bank, sat a lone tree that seemed to be waiting for us. We hung our beaver and smeared the skunk scent. The hope of a bear standing right where we were thrilled my every fiber; the hope of a mother and cubs feasting on this beaver placed with such purpose. I walked away believing that the beaver would get us everything we could ask for – a real look at the black bears of Maine.

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