Wisconsin bear researchers checking on dens: More ‘awake’ bears reported

Wisconsin bear researchers checking on dens: More ‘awake’ bears reported

Wisconsin bear researchers checking on dens: More ‘awake’ bears reported

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources researchers use this time of year to check in on black bears in their dens across the state.

“We try to be as respectful to the animals as possible when we are going in there, it certainly can be an adrenaline rush,” said team leader Dr. Jennifer Price Tack, large carnivore and elk research scientist.

But this year has been a little different for the research teams.

“This year is particularly warm and we did hold off some of our work due to safety concerns with approaching bears that are more awake than they would be in typical winter weather conditions,” Price Tack told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

The scientists’ work includes putting GPS collars on the females to later monitor their foraging behavior, reproductive success and survival rates of cubs.

“It is certainly strange in the beginning of February to see so many bears out,” Price Tack said.

The team is in its third year of data collection to help monitor the state’s black bear population estimated at more than 24,000 — up from 9,000 bears in 1989.

WI DNR researchers ask residents to report any bear dens they find.

At the North American Bear Center in Ely, Spencer Peter, biologist and assistant director, says they’ve also been getting bear sighting reports.

“We’ve heard people see actual bears in southern Minnesota, Central Minnesota, and few other places, where we normally wouldn’t,” Peter said.

Traditionally, in February bears continue to hibernate, with adult male bears not coming out until March, with snow melting in April and bears leaving their dens, according to the North American Bear Center’s website.

Melting snow, Peter said, could be one reason for some of the earlier sightings, with water going in dens.
“You will get bears getting up to find new dens,” Peter said. “It’s tough since they can’t shovel water out of the dens.”

Wisconsin DNR researchers will continue to check on bears and wait until later to begin checking dens with new cubs.