Every year, hunters in Maine end up shooting several bears that are sporting official Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife jewelry: Numbered ear tags that indicate the bear has been handled by biologists in the past.
Some of those bears have been captured as part of the state’s research efforts.
Others are outlaws, or “nuisance bears” who can’t seem to resist birdfeeders, garbage cans or beehives.
So when Jon Boulter of Bangor shot a male bear wearing ear tags on Sept. 14, he figured he might be able to learn more about the bruin, which weighed 213 pounds, field-dressed.
“[DIF&W biologist Randy Cross] said, ‘I’m not sure, but I think this is the bear that some people around here call the movie star bear,’ because he had made it into an episode of ‘North Woods Law’ filming,” Boulter said.
After a bit more research, Boulter learned that the bear he shot was to be featured in the season premiere of the Animal Planet TV show that focuses on the work of Maine Game Wardens, which aired on Oct. 3.
And it turned out the “movie star bear” had done quite a bit of traveling before he ended up at Boulter’s bait.
“This bear had been a source of many problems the summer before, according to Warden Rick LaFlamme,” Cross said in an email.
Cross explained that in most cases, biologists and wardens don’t trap and transfer nuisance bears. Instead, they try to deal with the human side of the equation, and try to convince people to remove attractants the bears are seeking.
This bear had destroyed some beehives in Wells, near the Ogunquit town line; LaFlamme trapped it and headed north to Bangor, where he’d meet up with Cross.
“I knocked him out, weighed him (207 pounds), tagged him (special colored tags — white — denoting him as a nuisance bear), and took a tooth for aging (born January 2010),” Cross wrote.
After Cross completed his work, LaFlamme took the bear farther north, to the Katahdin Iron Works region of Piscataquis County, in Township 6, Range 9, Cross said. The bear was released into the woods.
And that’s the last that viewers of “North Woods Law” saw of the bear.
After spending plenty of time in his stand during bear season, Boulter and the bear crossed paths on Sept. 14, some 40 miles away, in St. Albans.
Boulter said he had studied trail cameras at the site, and recognized the bears that were visiting the bait. The “movie star bear” was not among the regular visitors.
“I’ve looked at all the photos and footage, and I’m convinced this bear had never, ever, ever been there,” Boulter said. “Those ear tags stood out like a sore thumb. Still, to this day, it’s a cool story.”
Boulter has since touched base with the Wells man whose bee boxes were destroyed by the bear. The man is delivering those boxes to Boulter, who has asked his taxidermist to incorporate them in the mount that she’s preparing.
And while some “North Woods Law” fans might be sad to learn that the bear had met his demise, Cross said the outcome was a positive as far as biologists are concerned.
“The purpose of ear tagging is to gain information on the success or failure of this relocation effort,” Cross explained. “The only hope of gaining data is through hunter harvest, road kill, or future nuisance activity and capture. This is the best possible means of recovering that data — we certainly would hope not to catch him back in his old habit of causing conflict with people after so much expense and effort. As far as we can tell, this trap and transfer was successful. Most are not.”
Boulter was initially reluctant to share his story, but said he changed his mind in part because he thought it would give him the opportunity to share his opinion on a proposed bear referendum that would outlaw the use of bait, hounds or traps during Maine bear hunts.
“We have a high bear population. We have very few negative human interactions with them,” Boulter said. “It’s a good thing we’ve got going. And if you go and change this, I don’t think you’re going to feel the effects today or tomorrow, but we will feel the effects.”