Tag Archives: bear

This photo is from when we originally captured the bear. Photo courtesy of Jonah.

Things that bear nerds do

Today you're reading about black bear research from Jonah Gula, a senior in the wildlife biology program at Unity College in Maine. Originally from eastern San Diego, Jonah is interested in wildlife research and plans to pursue a master's in wildlife biology. Photo courtesy of Jonah.

Today you’re reading about black bear research from Jonah Gula, a senior in the wildlife biology program at Unity College in Maine. In this photo, he’s learning how to walk in on a bear during fall. Originally from eastern San Diego, Jonah is interested in wildlife research and plans to pursue a master’s in wildlife biology. Photo courtesy of Jonah.

I’ve worked on the Unity College Bear Study in Unity, Maine, for about a year and a half now. As we begin our second summer field season with a new crew, lessons learned, and a better understanding of where bears are in the area, I am confident that the student-led study will be even more successful this summer. Last year, to the surprise of many, we captured eight individual bears and were able to deploy three collars on females. Currently, there is one two-year-old female with a GPS/satellite collar that provides locations every four and a half hours, allowing us to practically monitor her every move.

I can honestly say that when I first began on the study, I did not have the greatest interest in black bears. Most of all, I was looking for an opportunity to gain experience in wildlife research as an undergraduate student. Well, in addition to a great experience, I’ve certainly become infatuated with bears. The fact that we can monitor our bear every few hours in almost real time astounds me. I’ve made it a part of my regular routine to check up on her latest whereabouts; as I go on my laptop periodically throughout the day I stop at my email inbox, check my Facebook notifications, and log in to see where her travels have taken her.

As a student, this all excites me. Based on the three females we’ve monitored so far, we’re finding that bears in this area of central Maine are moving across larger home ranges than in northern and Downeast Maine. So I can’t help but wonder: where will she go next? I’m always hoping for some long journey that’s out of the ordinary, but all too often I find her moving from place to place, spending a day or two here and there.

This photo is from when we originally captured the bear. Photo courtesy of Jonah.

This photo is from when we originally captured the bear. Photo courtesy of Jonah.

Last week, for five days straight, she stayed in a concentrated area, and I finally became so curious why she had settled down there that I took it upon myself to walk in on her. Her GPS/satellite collar is also equipped with a radio beacon, which allowed me to determine where she was by following the radio signal emitted by the collar.

After stalking through some partial cut woods and carefully placing my every step to avoid snapping twigs, I came to a fairly dense boggy area. While listening for the radio signal I scanned through the leafless winterberry and alder. My eyes stopped on a curious black shape that, after some squinting, I realized was the outline of the bear’s head. She was just staring curiously at me, and I back at her. I have terrible eyesight and wished I had brought binoculars, despite being about 150 feet away.

I stayed perfectly still and eventually she went back to her business of munching on sedges that surrounded the grass bed she was laying in. With my eyes on her, I stepped up onto a little mound to get a better perspective and snapped a twig. She bolted and the last I saw of her was her rear-end splashing through the bog.

I thought it best to inspect her bed and possibly collect a scat, as well as take a look around at possible food sources. Sedges and grasses were plentiful and a rotting smell alerted me to some skunk cabbage, a springtime favorite for bears. Her bed was very depressed and it was obvious that she had been there for days, just as the GPS locations had shown. Peculiarly, I found eleven scat piles around the perimeter of the bed, as if she were too lazy to move from her resting spot to relieve herself. As I looted through the poop and bagged a couple of piles, I couldn’t help but chuckle. “I will gladly do this for the rest of my life,” I thought.

A piping plover and several chicks. Credit: Heidi Sanders, Friends of Ellisville Marsh in Plymouth, Mass.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Black bear

Viewing conservation through a wider lens

black bear

A black bear. Credit: USFWS

Brawny male black bears can be found rummaging through the thick understory of many New England forests, and about this time, many are getting cozy in their dens. But in the warmer months, these guys are known to do a lot of traveling. A single black bear’s home range can stretch from 20 to 50 square miles, covering acres of forests, wetlands and even communities.

From a conservation point of view, animals with a wide range like the black bears’ can be difficult to manage. But that’s exactly what Ken Elowe wanted to figure out.

Elowe leads one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region programs as the assistant regional director of Science Applications, a program working on the science of today’s conservation methods. He came to the Service in 2010 after working in the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for 23 years. Elowe is incredibly passionate about his work in conservation, which started 30 years ago, when he did graduate research on black bear habitats. He is driven by the desire to ensure that our children and their children can continue to enjoy the beauty of nature.

Ken Elowe

Ken Elowe is the Assistant Regional Director of Science Applications for our agency in the Northeast Region.

“A hundred years from now,” said Elowe, “we want our fish and wildlife to still have a functional place to live and operate on the landscape.”

To face growing threats to the health of fish, wildlife and the natural systems that make up our landscape in the Northeast, Elowe – along with the Service and many of its partners – believes that approaching conservation from a holistic perspective is our best hope for fish and wildlife into the future.

To achieve that vision, the Service is working with partners to do conservation work at a landscape scale and consolidate the multitude of individual environmental, conservation and natural resource management actions into one big picture. For example, when conserving a forest, management plans could very well be applied based on individual animals and plants. A separate plan for moose, a separate plan for eagles and a separate plan for deer and bears could all apply to one forest. But doing conservation work at a landscape scale means that experts work to develop one all-inclusive plan that provides for all wildlife.

Elowe compares each conservation action to a patch on a quilt, and when we create a common landscape design plan, we can sew all those patches together.

“We’ve conserved wetlands. We’ve created wildlife refuges, management lands and we’ve created national parks,” he said. “But we’ve never stitched them all together so that they are a connected, functioning landscape.”

This concept can be seen in Maine’s Beginning with Habitat program, a program that Elowe worked on from the mid 1990s until his move to the Service. The program pulls together federal agencies, Maine, state agencies, local communities and non-governmental organizations. It strives to conserve habitats that support all native plants and animals in Maine. The program also supports towns, land trusts and others in making the best possible scientifically based decisions for people and wildlife.


Interns learning how to take measures of sea turtle nests at Virginia Beach. Credit: USFWS

The Service’s Northeast Region and its partners are strategically looking at what, where and how much habitat is needed for fish, wildlife and plants. By working through partnerships, like joint ventures and landscape conservation cooperatives (LCCs), experts can bring landscape scale conservation to life, and apply it to the entire region.

The LCCs, like Beginning with Habitat in Maine, are a forum for partners to come together over large areas to coordinate conservation efforts and develop the science and tools needed to put conservation plans into action.

“The LCCs are really doing what no federal agency, state agency or organization can do alone,” Elowe explained. “They integrate people and conservation on large scales.”

Elowe hopes that landscape scale perspectives will make it easier to meet to the needs of all parties, from wildlife to agencies to communities.


A moose at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Thomas Tetzner/USFWS

“People are concerned with how their areas look, feel and smell, what views they can get, where they can recreate, and where they can farm,” he said. “Through the work of LCCs, those important aspects [and many others I didn’t list] can be built into conservation, bringing people and conservation together on a bigger scale.”

So for the black bear, now snug in his den for his winter hibernation, taking a landscape scale approach can find a sustainable way for nature to provide a home for him, his future generations and his neighbors.

Written by: Raechel I. Kelley

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