MOUNT NEBO, Md. (AP) — Only one of the dozen bear dens Harry Spiker has identified for study this winter is in Allegany County and it is 30 feet off the ground inside a hollow red oak tree on the eastern side of Green Ridge State Forest.
“Besides that, there is a really steep drop-off beside the tree, so that may be a challenge for us,” Spiker said recently.
Spiker heads up bear management and research for the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service. Each March, crews hike, ski and crawl to check on radio-collared female bears that are hibernating with their recently born cubs.
“We know this sow has cubs because when Rande (Brown) found her (using the radio signal) he could hear the cubs inside the tree,” Spiker said.
This sow is the same bear the agency examined on St. Patrick’s Day in 2009. She weighed 208 pounds at that time and had three cubs with her in a ground den with an entrance about the size of a woodchuck.
“So far we are not aware of any of our bears denning under anybody’s porch,” Spiker said. He wasn’t kidding. It has happened before.
There is one den and inhabitants to be checked in Washington County and one in Frederick.
The Washington County bear is holed up atop Sideling Hill, and has never been den-checked before. The Frederick County bear, denned on private land, is known by the crews, who found her and her offspring in 2009 about 15 feet up a tree.
Sows give birth every other year.
The remaining dens, given away by the beep, beep of the radio collars, are in Garrett County.
“Some are in very rugged and remote locations,” Spiker said, audibly wincing at the thought of descending into Monroe Run to find, sedate and examine a sow and her cubs.
During this summer, a population survey of Maryland bears will take place. The most recent estimate was in 2006 when laboratory DNA tests of bear hair were extrapolated and the state declared the bruin population to be about 600.
“It is the same kind of study we have done in the past,” Spiker said, referring to the placement of bait stations surrounded by barbed wire. As the bruins approach the bait, their hairs get snagged. This year there will be 238 stations in Maryland’s four westernmost counties.
This will be the first time for Frederick and Washington counties to be surveyed.
“The methodology is 98 percent accurate,” Spiker said. “The lab work alone will cost more than $40,000. By the time you toss in staff time and materials we’re looking at $100,000.”
Crews will take one week to erect the bait stations. For the following five weeks, the stations will be visited weekly and bear hairs will be collected.
Results of the population survey will be used by the agency to set future bear hunting regulations.
Bear hunting returned to Maryland in 2004 following a half-century moratorium.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)