From the Tomahawk Leader, by Emily Stone
With bright sunshine to provide at least the appearance of warmth, single-digit temperatures didn’t phase us much. Hand and foot warmers took the edge off, too, as did the brisk pace set by college students from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s (UWSP) Wisconsin Black Bear Project.
The students weren’t following a designated trail; instead they were following the faint beeps of a radio collar worn by a female black bear in her den.
For over 30 years, students and professors from UWSP have conducted research on the seasonal movements, habitat selection, and reproduction of Wisconsin’s black bear population. During that period, bear numbers have risen from 9,000 to 24,000. The researchers’ hard work has contributed significantly to the body of knowledge about black bears in Wisconsin, and informs bear management, too.
On this late January morning, a small group of Wisconsin Master Naturalist volunteers were lucky enough to join a reconnaissance mission. The sow bear we headed toward had been caught in a barrel trap last fall and fitted with a collar. Although her age was unknown, she weighed more than 150 pounds at the time of capture, (she topped out the scale) which means she was big enough to have cubs. Students monitored her movements using radio telemetry equipment, and noted when and where she entered her den. Now, the question was, did she actually have cubs, and how many?