UNITY — Unity College has begun a multi-year Maine black bear study. The study will involve both faculty and students and include the trapping, tracking, and in at least one case, attachment of a video camera to a Maine black bear.

According to a press release, Associate Professor George Matula says the Unity program is in cooperation with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, collecting data similar to what MDIFW gathers in their three study areas. “They have been studying Maine black bears dating back to 1975,” Matula said in the release. “This initiative will provide opportunities for students to get involved in real-life, large mammal research and management that is unique for undergraduate students.”

Trapping of bears will begin in May, with Matula and Lisa Bates ’08, a Unity alum who is a Wildlife Biologist contractor with the MDIFW, leading students to wildlife management district 23 in the Dixmont, Troy and Benton areas. They will place GPS/satellite collars on up to five adult female Maine bears. One of the collars will be equipped with a video camera.

“One of the things we are trying to do is begin to collect data in an area that is different than where the state is collecting,” said Matula in the release. “Our goal is to determine whether there are differences between the bears in our study and bears in the other three MDIFW studies. The differences may include the home range of the bears, birth and mortality rates, and dispersal of offspring.” The Unity study will also see if there are differences in habitat for the bears in district 23 to the three MDIFW study locations, and whether these differences affect the size of the bears.

“If the habitat is better down here, it should show up in the number of cubs that are born, their size at birth, the size that they attain when they become yearlings, and the size they reach when they are adults,” Matula explained.

The collars will provide information on the home range size of the bears, and whether they occasionally move far afield from their normal range. Information on survival and time of denning will also be gathered.

During the winter months, Unity study participants will go to the dens of the collared females to determine if they had cubs and if so how many, and collect biological data that will reveal their general health.

“The cubs are tagged and then stay with the mother for another year,” said Matula. “Bears generally only have cubs every other year.”

“We’ll go back into the dens the next year to determine the minimum number of cubs that survived to become yearlings, and then while we’re there, we will radio collar the female offspring,” he said.

The video camera placed on one of the bears will be removed and sent to the manufacturer for retrieval of the footage. Student researchers will download and analyze that data.

Matula says student research teams have been created to work on specific aspects of the study, such as planning the study; designing databases and GIS analysis; producing a bear culvert trap; deploying hair snares; conducting DNA analysis of bear hairs; performing blood analysis; and pre-baiting for the trapping season. Six summer interns will serve full-time for six weeks trapping bears from mid-May to the end of June, with two teams of trappers trading off duties. Matula will lead one team and Bates the other.

The general public is encouraged to call any bear sightings in to the Unity study at 948-9269, or e-mail [email protected]

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