SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Would you travel to a bear den and wake up the animal for hibernation? The Division of Wildlife Resources does just that every year throughout the state. Wildlife biologists track black bears in Utah in order to get a pulse on the population.
“Controlling what we do, as far as how many we hunt and take, it’s important we know there are healthy populations just like any other wildlife,” Jenny Fausett of the Division of Wildlife said.
Trekking to a bear den in the middle of winter? It’s how @UtahDWR tracks bear 🐻 population during hibernation, but I had no idea #utwx has an impact on reproduction. Check out my story on @abc4utah news—-and yes, this story included hiking hard & I am still smiling! #newbuds pic.twitter.com/z6QwByW5tM— Alana Brophy (@AlanaBrophyNews) March 14, 2019
Biologists track collared black bears in hopes of finding them to check on health and the number of the animal’s cubs. Bears don’t den in convenient locations, so the trek to the den is often treacherous. On the most recent bear den trip in the Central Region, biologists traveled up Spanish Fork Canyon. Crews snowmobiled in about four miles, then strapped on snowshoes to hike up the face of a mountain.
“It’s hard to get a feel on how many bears are across the landscape because they are so secretive,” Levi Watkins of the Division of Wildlife said.
Biologists are dedicated to making it to dens throughout the winter months because it’s vital to track the number of young cubs. In Utah, black bear hunting started back in 1967. Rules and regulations continue to develop regarding the big game hunt, but the population is a major deciding factor when it comes to wildlife managers making decisions for permits.
“This can help with getting an idea of how many bears are there so when they manage hunting permits, they can gauge how many they want to do,” said Watkins.
The Spanish Fork Canyon den trip had no cubs, but crews watched a large bear leave the den. Critical field research can mean a weather connection.
“Even though there is a lot of snow, there have been drought conditions and that reflects of how many cubs there,” said Watkins.
Bear reproduction can be impacted by the weather pattern. During periods of drought, black bears work harder to find food. Female bears may not reproduce if harsh conditions exist and there’s a serious chance young won’t survive.
“Unfortunately, our bear today didn’t have cubs and that might be reflective of drought conditions and not having resources to have and raise cubs.”