With the bear hunting season set to begin Saturday, Sept. 1, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources asks that hunters avoid shooting research bears marked with distinctively large, colorful ear tags and have radio-collars.
Researchers with the DNR are monitoring about 30 radio-collared black bears across the state, especially in zones 27, 25 and 45, and in parts of the no-quota zone. Most of them are in or near the Chippewa National Forest between Grand Rapids and Bigfork. Others are farther north, near Orr or Voyageurs National Park. Some collared bears are also around Camp Ripley, and in northwestern Minnesota, especially near Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area and Plummer.
“We ask hunters to avoid shooting these valuable research bears. They continue to provide much of the data we use in bear management,” said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear research scientist.
A key to the research is looking at year-to-year changes in natural food supplies and how that affects individual bears. Natural food supply influences bear habitat use, weight gain, the location and date it dens and comes out of the den, reproduction, and interactions with people. This research is not designed to evaluate mortality from hunting. Trapping new bears every year to replace the ones killed cannot substitute for long-term data on individuals.
Most of the collars have global positioning units (GPS). The GPS coordinates are either uploaded to a satellite, or stored in the collar and downloaded by DNR researchers when they visit the bears in their dens. Each bear provides several thousand data points per year.
The bear’s coat often hides the collar, especially in the fall. And most of the collars are black. But all collared bears have large 3-by-2 inch colorful ear tags. So, hunters can simply identify a collared animal by these large tags, whether or not they see a collar. The tags should be plainly visible when a bear is at a bait, or on trail cam photos.
Photos of collared research bears and some research findings gained from them are available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/bear.
DNR officials recognize that a hunter may not be able to see a radio collar or ear tags in some situations. For this reason, taking a bear with a radio collar is legal; however, waiting a few minutes to get a clear view of the bear’s head would reveal whether it has large ear tags, which indicates that it is collared. Bears with small ear tags (1 by 1/4-inch) are not collared and not part of the research effort.
Any hunters who do shoot a collared bear should bring the collar to a bear registration station. Also, most collared bears have a small implanted heart monitor under the skin on the left chest. This contains valuable information stored in memory. If hunters find this device while skinning the bear, they are asked to leave it with the collar.
Hunters are asked to call the DNR Wildlife Research Office in Grand Rapids at 218-328-8874 or 218-328-8879 to report shooting a collared bear. Those with trail-cam photos of ear-tagged bears are asked to email them to mailto:email@example.com and include a location.