Governor Deval Patrick today joined Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Rick Sullivan, Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Commissioner Mary Griffin and state wildlife officials on an expedition to document the newest member of the Commonwealth's black bear population.
The team discovered one female cub born approximately six weeks ago, which weighed in at approximately six pounds. The Belchertown bear is one of 15 collared sows involved in a study that examines differences between black bears living in suburban areas and bears dwelling in rural areas.
While newborn cubs are too small to tag or collar, MassWildlife records each cub's physical condition, weight and gender. Biologists also check the physical condition of mother bears, as well as the condition and fit of their radio collars.
Information gathered at the den in Belchertown today adds to that compiled through one of longest, continuous studies of black bears in the United States. DFG's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) began the study with the Massachusetts Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 1970. Numbering only about 100 individuals in the western part of the state when the study began, the Massachusetts black bear population has grown to over 4,000 today.
A doctoral study conducted through the University of Massachusetts in Amherst by MassWildlife's Bear Project Leader Laura Conlee, will examine life history differences between suburban and rural dwelling black bears, including cub production, survival rates, patterns of movement and home range size. The study will allow MassWildlife to follow the continuing expansion of bear territories into eastern Massachusetts.
Although black bears are becoming more common in central Massachusetts and are occasionally sighted in eastern communities, most of MassWildlife's bear research takes place west of the Connecticut River. With the aid of GPS satellite and radio collars, MassWildlife is currently tracking 15 female bears, also known as sows, to determine adult female survival and cub production and survival -- key components of the Division's black bear population model. MassWildlife does not collar male bears, but ear-tags them to provide future knowledge about survival and movement.
Contrary to popular belief, black bears don't go into true hibernation in winter. Rather, they sleep soundly in their dens from November or December until early March to mid-April, but may wake up to forage in mild weather.
Black bears are found in 43 states. Those in Massachusetts average 230 pounds for males and 140 pounds for females. They are omnivores -- eating a variety of foods from vegetation and berries to grubs, insects and carrion -- and are excellent climbers, frequently using trees to rest and to protect their young. Black bears mate between mid-June and mid-July and cubs are born in mid- to late-January. Cubs remain in the den until April and stay with their mother for about 17 months. Females typically have their first litter when they are 3-4 years old.