The Minnesota bear hunting season opens Thursday, Sept. 1, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is once again asking hunters to avoid shooting marked research bears. These bears are marked with distinctively large, colorful ear tags and wear radio collars.
Researchers with the DNR are monitoring 25 radio-collared black bears across the state, especially in bear hunting zones 25, 27, 45 and 451, and in parts of the no-quota zone. Most of the radio-collared bears live in or near the Chippewa National Forest, Camp Ripley Military Reserve, the Pillsbury State Forest, and the Brainerd/Baxter area. However, the bears also range widely from these sites.
“We are asking hunters to avoid shooting these valuable research bears,” said Andy Tri, DNR bear research scientist. “These collared bears give us much of the data we use in bear management and are most valuable to us when they are collared for multiple years.”
A key to the research is looking at year-to-year changes in natural food supplies and how that affects individual bears in terms of their habitat use, physical condition, denning, 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 individual bears.
All of the collars the DNR uses in this research have GPS units. 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 x 2 inch), colorful ear tags. The tags should be plainly visible on trail cam photos or when a bear is at a bait. Links to example photos of collared bears with ear tags and a summary of pertinent research findings are online under the link “Importance of Radio-collared Bears” on the DNR bear management page (mndnr.gov/Bear).
DNR officials recognize hunters 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, pausing briefly to get a clear view of the bear’s head would reveal whether it has large ear tags, which indicates that it is collared.
Most collared bears have a small, implanted heart monitor under the skin on the left side of the chest. It looks like a small, silver capsule that is approximately the width of a paper clip. This contains valuable information stored in memory. Hunters who take a collared bear and find this device while skinning the bear should submit it with the collar.
Hunters may see bears with very small ear tags (1 x 1/4 inch). These bears are not collared and may be part of other ongoing research projects. It is legal to take a bear with small ear tags.
The DNR asks any hunters who do shoot a collared or ear-tagged bear to call the DNR Wildlife Research Office in Grand Rapids at 218-328-8879 to report it and coordinate the pickup or drop off of the collar and heart monitor, if applicable.
Hunters with trail cam photos of ear-tagged bears can provide valuable data and are asked to email the photos and locational information (nearest town or GPS coordinates) to firstname.lastname@example.org.