Lugnut the Bear doesn’t do much this time of year.
Sometimes she lies on her left side. Other times she lies on her right side. She sleeps. And snores. And every once in a while, she shakes off the semislumber to make sure her two cubs are still present, accounted for and fed.
Not the typical reality show fare that today’s hip viewers crave, you’d think.
But thousands of viewers have been riveted by real-time video of Lugnut (and, as of Jan. 16, her two cubs), who live underneath an uprooted sugar maple tree in northern Maine.
“It melts your heart,” said Randy Cross, a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist who helped place the camera in Lugnut’s den. “It’s almost 100 percent women who say, ‘I can’t tear myself away from this.’ My sister … my mother … she’s watching it all the time.”
The bear den camera is the brainchild of Bert and Hank Goodman and their father, Dale, and is a cooperative effort between the DIF&W and the Wildlife Research Foundation, which was founded by the Goodmans after a den visit last year.
Cross, who conducts winter den visits to female bears that the state has previous captured and fitted with radio collars, said the Goodmans were visibly moved by the experience when they tagged along in March.
“Bert looked at Hank or Hank looked at Bert — I can’t remember which — and said, ‘You know what? Nobody else in the world is holding a bear cub right now. I bet we’re the only ones. We each have a bear cub. This is really special,’” Cross recounted.
That moment helped spur the Goodmans to found the Wildlife Resarch Foundation, according to Cross.
“They were really taken by the [ongoing bear research] project and they really wanted to help in any way that they could,” Cross said. “That was the end of March. About a month or so later Bert talked to me about his idea to raise money to help with our project. And also, they had a broader scope: They wanted to accept proposals for all types of wildlife research.”
On Thursday, Hank Goodman referred questions to the foundation’s spokesperson, Edie Smith, saying he preferred Smith to talk to the public about the project. Smith explained that the Goodmans feel that speaking as individuals — the family runs a guiding business — would defeat the foundation’s purpose by focusing attention on them rather than the collective efforts of many. Smith said the family feels support of the foundation — and donations to fund future wildlife research — will be greater if that approach is followed.
In a video on the Wildlife Research Foundation’s website, Hank Goodman succinctly explains the group’s goals.
“It is our mission to raise funds for the scientific community and the wildlife managers,” Goodman said. “And also to educate the public [about the] necessities of wildlife research.”
To that end, the foundation is seeking donations that will be used to fund future wildlife research on all kinds of critters.
In order to drum up some support, the Goodmans floated the den camera idea to Cross, who pointed out that the department had considered installing a den camera back in 2001, and opted not to do so. The thought at the time, he said, was that a lot of effort and DIF&W money would go into the project, and benefits might be slight.
“We’re not really in that kind of business,” Cross said. “It works better for private organizations or a foundation like this to do something like that as a support group for wildlife research in general.”
But when a foundation was willing to foot the bill, Cross recognized the public relations and education benefits could be enormous.
And the bear den cam has been a hit.
Want proof? Put the video up on your work computer, turn the volume way up, sit back … and wait. It won’t take long before you’re surrounded by ooh-ing, coo-ing coworkers who want to hear the whole story … and who want to catch a glimpse of the elusive (but often loud-mouthed) cubs.
Cross, whose regular bear den survey crew was among the dozen people who took part in the project, said that Lugnut was not actually his first choice as a spokes-bear (or, if you prefer, sleep-bear).
He wanted an older bear, but after efforts to wire the dens of 15-year-olds Spunky and Nell failed, he decided to give Lugnut a try.
Spunky decided to move to another den, Cross surmises, because an essential power station that the group set up disturbed her. Nell also moved on after two and a half days under video surveillance after the generator quit and a crew had to go back and restart it.
“So [the crew was] very discouraged at that point. They were wondering if it was possible,” Cross said. “And we still only had ankle-deep snow.”
Cross explained that deeper snow would have made the bears more apt to stay put and tolerate small disturbances. A lack of snow made them feel more mobile and more willing to relocate.
Another factor: Cross said that though similar projects had been conducted elsewhere, he and the others were learning on the fly.
“It’s sort of like a redneck project,” Cross said with a laugh. “We’re flying by the seat of our pants a little bit. They went to Walmart and bought 12 100-foot extension cords and taped them all together and that’s what’s powering the infrared light inside. They’ve been solving problems as they come to them.”
And on the third try, the crew succeeded: The power station was moved back to 1,200 feet from Lugnut’s tree abode, and fiber-optic cable was used to make that possible.
“We put [the camera] in later than I would have liked. I would have liked to have had two weeks before [the cubs were born] so people could wait and listen for the birth and we could get it all up [on the website],” Cross said.
The den was wired on Jan. 11. The cubs were born on Jan. 16, before the website was complete operational. But on Thursday, Hank Goodman said that the video of the birth was actually captured and an eight-minute version of it will be added to the foundation’s site soon.
Cross said that he knows some will criticize the foundation’s efforts and the DIF&W’s partnership in the den camera project. He said some might object to disturbing the bears in their dens each winter.
“We inconvenience them every winter in order to gain the information that we feel is necessary to better manage the entire bear population,” Cross said. “It benefits all the bears in the state in that it’s a long-term monitoring project and it keeps us on top of the bear happenings, what’s going on out there.”
And he said the partnership with the Wildlife Research Foundation presented a unique opportunity.
“People like to complain, but it’s not often that someone steps up and says, ‘I’m going to take this money out of my pocket and make something happen. I’ve got this idea and I think it’s going to work,’” Cross said.
You can also find the bear den video at the BDN Outdoors website, at bangordailynews.com/link/watch-mama-bear-lugnut-and-her-cubs/.