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Only Good News - UPDATE September 2, 2023

RC's single cub by L. Kennedy

In this tense time, we have yet to hear a shot, and in the last few days two bears turned up we’ve been hoping to see—24-year-old RC and 20-year-old Colleen. In this year of abundant wild food, we’ve been wondering where a lot of ‘regulars’ are, but then Ursula and Bow showed up plump and healthy like we are now seeing with RC and Colleen.

Colleen by L. KennedyColleen by L. Kennedy

The local Timberjay newspaper seconded what we are saying about good food and the lack of shots with a long headline saying, “Advantage goes to bears as season opens Friday—Adundant natural foods should be a factor limiting hunter success.”RC by L. KennedyRC by L. Kennedy

Earlier this year we were seeing very few bears during the bumper crop of Juneberries, along with blueberries and raspberries and wild sarsaparilla berries. Then came a huge crop of chokecherries with reports of the same for wild plums—all bear favorites. Diversionary feeding can keep bears out of trouble when wild foods are scarce, as we happily saw happen in the drought years of 2020 and 2021, but nothing we can offer can compete with the bumper crops of favorite wild foods this year.

Not only were RC and Colleen looking plump, so was RC’s lone male cub that got all her milk plus all the berries he wanted and likely some fresh hazelnuts. He looks like he weighs a good hundred pounds. Hazel nuts were around but it was berries that were making branches hang low. Lorie got a picture of RC’s big, timid cub up a tree looking more like a yearling than a cub. I don’t know if we’ll be able to get a weight on him because he is totally timid. He has probably seen few people in his life.

At 24, RC is starting to show her age. Lorie got a good shot of her face showing a lot of white hairs. Colleen at 20 is getting a few, too, as Lorie captured in her picture.

We’re crossing our fingers for all the bears we know, hoping that they can live out their lives revealing their ways for us to learn and share. With bears in this area living longer than most, we have an opportunity to learn a new part of their lives—the effects of senescence. Very little is known about this because in most areas, bears cannot escape human-related causes of death long enough to reach old age, and those that die of natural causes are not usually found until it is too late for a necropsy. If we are allowed to use radio collars, we have the best chance that we know of to learn how old age affects foraging, body weight, reproduction, travels, territoriality, relations with other bears, and whatever we might find thorough necropsies performed by the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Necropsies can also reveal the affects of aging on blood parameters, plaque build-up, arthritis, organ failure, myelopathy, and more, some of which we saw with 26-year-old Midge (Dykstra, J.A., L. L. Rogers, S. A. Mansfield, and A. Wünschmann. 2012. Fatal disseminated blastomycosis in a free-ranging American black bear (Ursus americanus) Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation 24(6) 1125–1128). In the meantime, we want the bears who have touched our hearts to live healthy lives as long as possible.

For 24-year-old RC, I’m wondering if this healthy male might be her last cub. Her next would come when she is 26, which was the long-standing record for the oldest mothers (two that I know of) to give birth before Shadow had Spanky at 28 for a new record. On the bright side, with Shadow as RC’s mother, she might have one or two more litters. Little is known about the age that most bears stop reproducing.

Thank you Lorie for the pictures and thank you all for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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