Bear cub then … and now

In March 2010, Herald staff photographer Eric Hylden and I had the opportunity to accompany researchers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Medtronics to the site of a bear den near Plummer, Minn.

The researchers visited the den to replace the radio-collar it had attached to the mother bear the previous fall with a GPS collar that would provide detailed information on her whereabouts throughout the year. The DNR has been studying bears in northwest Minnesota since 2007 in an effort to learn more about the habitat they use in a part of the state that’s on the fringe of their range.

Brad Dokken holds three bear cubs in March 2010 at a den near Plummer, Minn. (Eric Hylden photo)

While the researchers worked on the mother bear, I was fortunate enough to be one of the people tending the three cubs. The little fur balls, two with brown fur and one with black, each weighed about 8 pounds at the time, and they didn’t appear to be the least bit distressed at the sudden attention.

When the researchers had completed their work, they returned the mother and her cubs to the den.

I’ve often wondered how the cubs fared since that afternoon in March 2010. Turns out one of them, at least, is doing just fine.

A male bear with a collar and a yellow tag marked "284" checks out the ladder on a deer stand April 11 near Plummer. The bear likely is one of three cubs observed in March 2010 at a den that's not far from the deer stand.

Chris DuChamp of Erskine, Minn., provided that insight this week when he emailed me a series of three photos of a bear captured April 11 on a trail camera. The curious bear, standing on its hind legs to check out the ladder of a deer stand, has a collar on its neck and a tag that clearly shows the number “284.”

Thinking it might be one of the cubs I held two years ago, I forwarded the photos to the DNR researchers working on the project and Mark Ditmer, the University of Minnesota graduate student overseeing the fieldwork.

It appears I might be right.

“In fact, there is a decent chance this is actually one of the brown cubs you held when you came out with us to the den in Plummer 2 years ago,” Ditmer writes in an email. “He was captured last fall and we put a GPS unit on him.  However, when we attempted to locate his den this winter, we could not hear his VHF signal. We are going to have someone listen again this spring to see if his collar is broken or if he was simply in a very deep den this last winter.”

Still, Ditmer said, the researchers have been able to keep track on the young male bear. He’s in a patch of woods with a female companion who wears a GPS collar.

“I get her locations emailed to me every couple of days,” Ditmer said.

Gotta love technology.

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