WASHINGTON COUNTY, Maine — In 1975, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife began a 40-year study to examine Maine’s bear population. The information provided by the study is used to adjust bear hunting rules and regulations to ensure the number of bears is kept in balance with available habitat.
The study continued this year, with IFW bear biologist Randy Cross leading a team of five other specialists through Washington County for 43 days in May and June. Cross and his team captured 66 different bears a total of 92 times.
The team used cable-foot restraints and culverts, the same traps used by the public during bear trapping season and the only bear trapping devices legally permitted in Maine.
“These devices are considered safe and humane by scientific and animal care committees across the country. There is a perception that the old-fashioned steel-jawed bear traps are used, but they have been illegal in Maine for years,” Judy Camuso, wildlife division director for the IFW, said.
Once captured, each bear was anesthetized, measured, checked for its reproductive status, tattooed with an identifying number beneath its lip and released.
Among the bears captured was “Big John,” a 7-year-old 432-pound black bear. Cross has been interested in this sizeable creature since it was first spotted and tagged for the study in 2010.
In addition, 16 female bears were fitted with a radio collar, including 8 that were new to the study. These bears, along with 100 others that already have been collared in three study areas across the state, will be visited in their dens this winter to obtain information on birth rates, survival, behavior, health and nutrition.
Now in its 39th year, the study is the longest running bear research program in the country. More than 3,000 bears have been captured and marked since the study began in 1975.
Maine’s bear population has risen from 23,000 bears in 2004 to more than 30,000 bears in 2014, according to the IFW. This figure sets Maine’s bear population as the largest in the East and one of the largest in the country.
For more information on the IFW’s bear management program, visit www.maine.gov/ifw/wildlife/species/mammals/bear.html.