DAVIDSON TOWNSHIP, SULLIVAN COUNTY — When the Pennsylvania Game Commission conducts its annual bear trapping each summer as part of a statewide population monitoring effort, the northeast agency staff times the work when the blueberries are ripe.
The food source tends to congregate bears and aids in where to locate traps.
This summer, however, the timing of the work also coincided with a period of heavy rain, something that had an impact on this year’s results.
With a combination of 11 barrel traps and snares set throughout State Game Lands 13 and 57 in August, PGC staff was only able to capture nine bears over eight days. Last year, 22 bears were captured over the same span.
Agency biologist Kevin Wenner said the low number isn’t attributable to a decrease in the population but rather the rain.
“It’s a reflection of the weather,” he said. “We started with a complete washout and we continued to get rain every day, which really weakened the scent we use to attract bears.”
Still, Wenner was happy to get nine captures and the resulting data which will be used to figure harvest and population estimates.
The Game Commission captures and tags bears throughout much of the year, and most of them are animals trapped in response to nuisance complaints. The bears captured on SGL 13 and 57 are in such a remote area that nuisance complaints aren’t an issue, so any time spent trapping in that area allows the agency to keep tabs on that segment of the population.
Every bear that is captured receives an identification tag in each ear (if it doesn’t have them already from a previous capture), is weighed, given an overall health assessment and checked for mange before a blood sample is taken and the bruin is released.
While the number of captures were down this summer, Wenner was happy to see that none of the bears showed any evidence of mange. Blood samples will be analyzed to see if any of the bears were ever exposed to mange in the past.
“Mange in bears is an issue in the Northcentral Region, but in neighboring Sullivan County we see very little, which is great,” Wenner said.
The heaviest bear captured was a 438-pound male on a campground near Laporte. A second bear captured on the campground — a female — has a long history with the Game Commission.
That bear was originally captured in 2014 in Susquehanna County, according to Wenner, and at that time the bruin was 10 years old. Now she’s approaching 15 and since 2014 the female bear has been captured and handled six times.
Wenner said the bear weighs 250 pounds, which is fairly large for a female, and he attributed the high weight to the dumpsters the bruin has been raiding for food scraps.
“On the game lands we typically don’t see females that heavy,” Wenner said. “For example, we caught a lactating female with two cubs this year on Game Lands 13 and she weighed 122 pounds.”
Another female bear captured this year was also trapped in 2015 and 2016 in nearly the same location. In 2015 the bear weighed 95 pounds and last year she weighed 108 pounds and was treated for a mild case of mange.
“This year she weighed 160 pounds and showed no evidence of mange,” Wenner said.
On average, the agency traps, tags and releases 800 bears each year across the state. The percentage of tagged bears that show up in the harvest during hunting season help the Game Commission estimate the population, Wenner said.
“We’ve been doing this in the Northeast Region since 2006 and the data is very beneficial,” he said. “The more bears we can tag, the more we can determine about the population.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky