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Bear-monitoring program notes sizeable population

Published November 06. 2010 09:00AM

For people living within the immediate area, sightings and encounters with black bears have become so commonplace they have become somewhat matter-of-fact events in recent years. As bears keep expanding their range in Pennsylvania, they are as likely to be seen from backyard decks and on mountain hiking trails as deer and wild turkey.

For that reason, many area hunters will be staying close to home for the five-day statewide archery bear season, Monday-Friday, Nov. 15-19. This is followed by the statewide three-day firearms bear season, which opens Sautrday, Nov. 20, and concludes Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 22 and 23.

There is no question that a huntable population of black bears resides in wildlife management units from the Pocono Mountain through the Susquehanna Valley, and last year the Pennsylvania Game Commission monitored that population. That was done through a trapping and tagging progam under the supervision of PGC bear biologist Mark Ternent.

In the Southeast Region, wildlife conservation officers Will Dingman and Kevin Clouser conducted an eight-day monitoring program in WMU 4E in various areas of high bear density in Northumberland and Schuylkill counties. Studies such as this are conducted throughout Pennsylvania to monitor the statewide bear population, which is estimated to be approximately 15,000, and comparing the number of tagged bears hunters bring to PGC check stations against the number of bears tagged allows the agency to monitor hunter success.

"During the eight days we conducted the monitoring program in WMU 4E, we trapped eight bears," Ternent said. "We're satisfied with this level of success and this effort combined with unit-wide efforts to trap and tag nuisance bears should yield a sufficient sample to estimate harvest rates within the unit.

"We're not looking for nuisance bears when we conduct one of these monitoring programs, and the bears we trap are released on site after tagging and recording research data. Our objective is to supplement the information that is compiled from bears that are trapped and transferred, including reproduction and survival rates.

"Chances are that when people see a tagged bear, it is a research bear, not a nuisance bear. By tagging a certain number of bears in an area, the ratio of tagged and untagged bears that hunters bring to a check station allows for accurately estimating the population."

When trapping nuisance bears, PGC personnel use large culvert traps that are mounted on wheels and towed behind vehicles. Bears entering these traps trigger a door that drops and encloses it in the trap, allowing it to be tranquilized, tagged, studied and then towed to another area for release.

Because the trapping of bears that is conducted for the population monitoring study is usually done on game trails in the woods, it is usually impossible to tow a culvert trap to the site. As a result, an Aldridge Foot Snare, which is a sliding loop cable that allows bears complete freedom of movement, is used to prevent injury.

These snares are placed on trails that have also been baited with donuts - Krispy Kreme, no less and sprayed with a special mixture of attractant scents. Ternent said that in some areas where monitoring programs are conducted on a regular basis, the bears have learned to associate the donuts with being trapped, so a false snare is set and then an actual snare to catch the bear.

"Ideally, 20 percent of the tagged bears is our target goal for hunter success in an area," Ternent said. "This produces a declining population, which is the goal in WMUs with an extended season."

Considering that less than three percent of the hunters take a bear each year in Pennsylvania, reaching that goal of 20 percent is more difficult than it may seem. Even in areas where there is no shortage of bears.

For more information on black bears, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission website at, select "Hunting," and then click on the photograph of the black bear.

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