At this time of year each spring, wildlife biologist Randy Cross and a team of his colleagues spend a few weeks in the woods, looking to enlist new black bears in the state’s ongoing bear research project.
Sometimes Cross receives a welcome surprise, when bears he “met” before return and temporarily are captured with a cable foot-restraint trap.
That’s what happened last week — he thinks.
Cross, who works for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, sent a photo of a bear he thinks is one researchers call “Dozer.” Dozer is now a doozie and weighed in at 442 pounds.
Cross said the bear was caught in the state’s Bradford study area, and identifying the bear in the field proved difficult. All he knows for sure is he has seen the bear before.
Bears that are caught receive a numerical tattoo on their inner lip and are fitted with ear tags. Females receive radio collars, which allow researchers to track them down during the winter and visit them in their dens.
This bear was a male and had no collar.
“[We] need to wait for tooth age to be absolutely certain which bear he was, as the tattoo was indistinct and the ear tags gone,” Cross said in an email. “I think he is 14 years old. Another big-boned individual.”
A year ago, Cross checked in to report another large male bear, “Big John,” had been recaptured in Township 36, four years after he first caught it. Big John weighed in at 432 pounds, and Cross said its body weight in June likely was the lowest it would be for the rest of the year, as more abundant forage was due to become available.
Big John was the same bear a colleague and I met back in 2010, when we were tagging along with DIF&W researchers. The bear, in fact, was named after me.
At 442 pounds, Dozer is even bigger than Big John. Cross said he also will continue to bulk up all summer long.
“[He] would certainly be over 600 [pounds] by the first of October,” Cross said.
The Maine state record is a 699-pound bear shot by Pennsylvanian Matt Knox in Greenville in 2012.
Cross said the bear crew has had a busy time during this spring trapping season, and several bears have been large.
“[We] caught an 18-year-old male who was just 320 [pounds] the week before, and who hadn’t been captured since 2002,” Cross wrote. “[And we’ve] caught four over 300 pounds already this spring (all previously captured, either in den or by foot restraint).”