New DNR video showcases black bear research

A new video showcasing the DNR’s black bear population research and a visit to a bear den is now featured on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.

The five-minute video features DNR bear researcher Dr. Dave Garshelis as he travels with a group of University of Minnesota students to a remote den in the winter to collect information on a female bear and her two new cubs.

“The video highlights our research in the area of bear population,” Garshelis said. “We go to each collared bear’s den every year to assess their health and reproduction, which we can then relate to the habitats in which they live. This research informs our decisions for managing habitat and hunting in a way that ensures a healthy and sustainable population of bears.”

DNR researchers are currently studying 30 radio-collared bears located throughout bear range in northern and central Minnesota. These bears, which were initially captured in traps or collared in winter dens, are assessed at least once each winter for as long as they survive. One such bear, number 56, is now 39 years old and is the world’s oldest known black bear. That is the only collared bear not subject to annual examinations, as the researchers are cautious about drugging her.

The new video shows Garshelis, a 30-year veteran DNR researcher, visiting a den to check on the health of a female black bear and her eight-week old cubs. His work includes exchanging the female bear’s collar with a new GPS collar, collecting hair and blood samples, and performing a general health assessment with the assistance of university wildlife and veterinary students.

Like other forms of research, long-term data are needed to identify trends in the factors affecting bear populations. But collecting long-term data on specific individuals of a wild species can be challenging.

“Study bears are not legally excluded from hunting, and research has shown us that eighty percent of Minnesota’s bears die from hunting,” Garshelis said. “Recently, we have asked hunters to voluntarily refrain from shooting collared bears, and they have cooperated in this request, understanding that the research is closely tied to better bear management in the future.”

DNR bear researchers have collaborated with researchers from other disciplines, especially in the medical field. Medical researchers have long been intrigued by the bear’s unique ability to go without any food or water for up to seven months of the year, without suffering any significant loss of muscle or bone mass. Blood collected from hibernating bears in the DNR study has been used in medical trials attempting to reduce tissue damage of human organs for transplant.

While Garshelis noted that major scientific breakthroughs are rare, the long-term dataset that DNR researchers have collected has provided many insights about bears and has yielded a solid foundation for managing Minnesota’s bear population.

Homeowners can experience conflicts with bears in the spring when they emerge from their dens and are foraging for food. Removing sources of food such as bird feeders, feeding pets indoors, storing trash in bear-proof containers and keeping barbeque grills clean can help avoid attracting bears.

For more information about black bears in Minnesota and to view the video, visit the DNR website.

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