PORTER TWP. – Monday March 7 marked the official beginning of the season for spring PIAA High School sports.
Although my schedule was already packed with plans to visit as many of the Wallenpaupack, Delaware Valley, and North Pocono teams as I could, the opportunity to accompany the Pennsylvania Game Commission on spring bear den checks in Pike County also appeared. How could I say no?
The amount of wildlife biology that is carried on by the Game Commission is probably something many outdoorsmen of the Keystone State don’t fully understand.
For the non-woodsy folks, what goes on behind the scenes at the PGC is probably something that’s given little thought.
However, for people like myself that frequently ponder what exactly my hunting license fees are funding, getting to experience something like this first-hand helps quell thoughts that paying for the privilege of being an outdoorsman in Pennsylvania isn’t all for naught.
While on the surface the study of bears yields valuable information about the animals that, in turn might be used to help set hunting policies, once you look beyond the initial numbers and statistics studies such as this produce, you can learn much about the habitat where the bears live.
From there you can see how man’s interaction with the environment has negatively or positively affected that habitat.
Deciphering that information could lead to policies that affect things such as land management; wetlands protection; road construction; and even tourism.
Plans and Conclusions
Prior to setting out, biologists and Wildlife Conservation Officers have to know where female bears are denning.
The way this is accomplished is by tracking sows that were previously collared with a radio transmitter.
Of the nine to ten females in Pike County that have radio collars, just four have cubs that were born this past winter.
The others are all bears that have yearlings. So right off the bat we can learn a little about the mating cycle of our local bears.
The bear that was tracked on this particular day was initially collared in 2007, according to local WCO Bob Johnson.
He informed me that when she was first collared, a tooth was removed and sent for study that determined her age then to be about six years old. That makes her about fifteen now.
Think about that. Just this past November close to 105 bears were checked in at the Shohola Game Commission station during the first three days of bear season. 79 were checked in during that same period during the 2014 hunt.
While the numbers fluctuate from season to season, on average they remain in that window for close to a decade.
Given the numbers of bears harvested and the fact that this sow has remained unscathed for so many years signals that the local habitat is certainly capable of providing enough area for bears to remain undiscovered even through periods of heavy hunting.
Ideally, once located, the sow is tranquilized; she’s given a health check too; and the cubs are counted; checked for gender; weighed; gets some blood drawn; and then is given an ear tag.
This particular bear had just one cub this year, a down year for her according to WCO Mark Kropa. He recalled that she has had three to four cubs every two years since they started tracking her.
One year she lost her entire litter and then had three more the following winter that put her into a different cycle, but if she followed her previous pattern before that and started mating at two years like most sows, he estimates she may have had two litters of 2-4 bears before they ever tracked her.
That means that roughly in the course of her life she’s produced around 25 bears.
Any bears this sow produced since she was collared were tagged and given the time and opportunity I’d be interested in finding out how many bears harvested in Pike County each year have ear tags that can be traced to a Pike County cub litter from a previous year. The locations of the dens are recorded so one could even figure out what a harvested bear’s range roughly was from the time it was born.
Food for Thought
While actually getting to hold a bear cub was part of my personal agenda, I ended up departing with a lot to ponder and certainly more questions than I had when I started.
I’ve worked in the outdoor industry in one capacity or another for close to 25 years and while I’ve had many jobs where I was “Bear Aware.”
I used to think I knew a lot about bears and their habitat, but this past week’s junket with the Game Commission only made me realize that while I thought I possessed a “More than working knowledge of Ursus Americanus,” in fact there’s a lot more I can learn about our American Black Bears.