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Visiting a Black Bear Den

Visiting a Black Bear Den

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An 11-year-old male black bear that was just placed back in his den after a checkup by DNR bear experts. He's still under the effects of the tranquilizer in this photo, but they'll wear off soon. (Photo by Mark Brush)

Host: Rebecca Williams
Show date: 02/21/2012

Black bears are doing really well in Michigan. The Department of Natural Resources estimates there are somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 black bears in the state. They’re mostly in the U.P. and the northern lower peninsula. But in recent years... bears have been heading south and pushing into new territories.

Bears have been spotted in the Thumb, and around Flint, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek and Lansing.

Dwayne Etter is a bear researcher with the DNR.

“We’re trying to understand better how bears are using these habitats, how they’re moving through the landscape, if there’s corridors they’re using.”

To do that, they trap bears, put GPS radio collars on them, and let them go. On this day, they’re checking on an 11 year old male bear in Oceana County. They’ve invited a lucky few to tag along as they go right up to the sleeping bear in his den.

“The only access is right at him, so there’s no sneaking up, he knows you’re there. The other issue we have is that our wind is blowing right into the den, so he’s getting to smell us too.”

Bears are not true hibernators. They’re sleepy this time of year... but they can wake up quickly. Dwayne Etter says that’s especially true this winter because it’s been so warm. So Etter sends us civilians up to the top of a ridge to watch from a distance. He and two other DNR staffers approach the bear from a meadow below.

Mike whispering: “See that hump down there? That’s his den.”

Mike Wegan is a wildlife technician with the DNR. We watch as the guys make their way through the valley below us.

“They’re going to come in, and dart him from the opening of the den.”

They dart the bear. It takes a couple minutes for the drug to set in.

“Sometimes they’ll kinda poke it with a stick to see if it responds at all. Once they determine it’s out and it’s safe, they’ll reach in there, give the bear a tug on the arm, and then we’re good to go.”

Watch a video about the black bear checkup by Michigan Radio's Mark Brush

More about southern Michigan bears from the DNR


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