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Biologists track hibernating bears for research

By Sam Penrod | Posted - Mar. 8, 2010 at 5:45 p.m.


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MT. NEBO, Utah County -- Biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources went on an adventure Monday morning: They tracked down a hibernating bear, which hadn't eaten in months.

Their goal wasn't to wake a sleeping bear, but to study the health of bears while they are hibernating, and to measure the bear population in Utah. A KSL 5 News camera was there as a couple of brave biologists crawled into the bear's den.

A radio receiver helped DWR biologists know almost exactly where the bear was sleeping.

"That's the signal [that] the collar on the bear is sending out; and as we get closer, it will get clearer and louder," explained Craig Clyde, wildlife biologist with the DWR.

It was a two-hour hike, on snowshoes, from the nearest road to where the bear was camping for the winter.

"We found the den. It's really rocky, goes back in there 20 feet," Clyde said. "It's very narrow -- 2 feet by 2 feet in some places."

The biologists found the den the bear picked out wasn't such a bad place after all.

"It's really wet and humid and quite warm in there," one biologist said "It's not cold at all in there."

After the bear was tranquilized as a precaution, biologists went back in to examine the bear. They snapped a couple of photos the 3-year-old, 200-pound female bear, sound asleep inside the den.

"We determined there wasn't any cubs, that was number one. Number two was to check her health, and she's in good shape; and we adjusted the radio collar to make sure it's not hurting her," Clyde said.

It's nearly impossible to know exactly how many bears are in Utah, but these random samples of the bear population give biologists a pretty good idea.

"It allows us to know of production and survival. By having that, we can plug it into a computer model and have more of a population estimate than we do now," Clyde said.

Biologists expect the bear will start waking up and venturing out of the den in the next few weeks. She's one of five bears in central Utah wearing a radio collar that allows for the study.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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Sam Penrod

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