Roxann Eischens calls seeing a mother black bear and two cubs up close and personal on her property near Two Inlets a “lifetime opportunity.”
Eischens said her brother-in-law was out cutting wood in late January when he discovered a den inside a wooded area on her property. He took a closer look and saw the mother bear’s nose poking out.
That’s when Eischens contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to let them know about the den and bears.
“They were quite excited when I called them,” Eischens said. “I emailed them a picture and they were happy–especially when they saw there were cubs.”
DNR officials made arrangements with researchers from the University of Minnesota who are studying Minnesota black bears to collaborate on testing the bears at Eischens’ place on Monday.
The DNR also invited about 30 students and staff from a biology class at Bemidji High School.
The DNR sent out a public notice last fall for landowners and hunters to report any bear dens they come across in the Bemidji area, and to give the agency an opportunity to conduct studies.
Andy Tri, a wildlife research biologist in Grand Rapids, said they didn’t have much luck with finding dens in the area this past fall and winter, until they got a call from Tom Stursa at the DNR office in Park Rapids.
After the mother bear was sedated and pulled from the den it was fitted for a radio collar, a heart monitor was implanted, and she was weighed and measured. Then everyone had a chance to hold the two cubs — one male and one female.
“They were like little piggies. The female was the noisiest and was not happy right away,” Eischens said. “The warmer the jacket the happier they were because they’re used to their 220-pound momma.”
Given this once in a lifetime chance to hold bear cubs, Eischens brought her 95-year-old neighbor Margie Amick out to the property. They were able to get Margie up to see the bears and hold the cubs before the Bemidji students arrived.
“She was tickled pink,” Eischens said of Margie holding the cubs. “She was almost in tears because she did something she had never done before.”
Tri and his DNR colleagues said the bear’s den north of Park Rapids is a great research opportunity. Researchers took blood, tooth and hair samples, as well as body condition measurements to get a good idea of the overall health of the bear.
Researchers will determine the exact age after studying a section of the tooth, but Tri estimates the 220-pound bear to be about 10 years old.
“This turned out to be a perfect situation,” Tri said. “We’re getting valuable data–things like survival data to see if she’s hunted in the fall. It’s also an opportunity to get high school students involved.”
The cubs were born around Jan. 15 of this year and Tri expects them to leave the den around mid-April, possibly sooner with warmer weather.
Once momma bear and the cubs leave the den they’ll start looking for food and most likely stay close to the den area, generally only moving in an eight-square mile area, Tri said.
He expects the bears to first feed on things such as ants this spring before the berry season and once things green up, they’ll eat young, tender plants and grasses.
The cubs will stick with mom through the year, Tri said, and the yearlings will be kicked out the following May or June.
Along with other family and friends, Eischens let her grandchildren skip school for the day for some real-life outdoor education.
“It was a learning experience from 10 years to my neighbor who is 95,” Eischens said. “It was a lifetime experience for a lot of people. We would have never known the bears were there if my brother-in-law wasn’t out there cutting wood.”