Looking For Bear Dens
Most of the time park rangers are urging us to avoid encounters and confrontations with Michigan’s black bears when we’re in the woods.
Not this winter.
This winter, DNR biologists are asking us to keep an eye open for bear dens while we’re outdoors and if we find one, report it. They’re hoping reporting den locations will be a simple but effective way to support bear management programs.
“Finding winter den locations is an important component to managing black bear populations, and we need assistance to add new den sites to the program in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula,” said Mark Boersen, wildlife biologist at the DNR Roscommon Customer Service Center. “Currently, we are monitoring six bears from the ground and aircraft using radio tracking equipment.”
Depending on their location in the state, bears typically enter dens in November and December. They tend to select dens in locations that provide shelter from the elements, which can include areas with dense vegetation, rock crevices, fallen trees, or excavated holes. Bear dens may look like brush piles covered in snow or excavated holes in the ground, both having an icy opening to vent fresh air.
You spotted a den! What’s next?
If you’re in the vicinity of a potential den site, stay quiet and listen for any sounds coming from within. You may be able to hear cubs nursing or crying.
If you believe you have found a bear den, keep a safe distance away and avoid disturbing the den or the bears inside. Record the location, using GPS coordinates if possible, and report the information to one of the following DNR staffers:
Upper Peninsula: Cody Norton at 906-202-3023 or NortonC3@Michigan.gov.
Northern Lower Peninsula: Mark Boersen at 989-275-5151 or BoersenM@Michigan.gov.
After receiving a report of a denned bear, DNR biologists will determine if the animal is a good candidate for joining the ongoing project.
A bear selected for the program will be sedated and fitted with a collar and ear tags. Biologists will collect information from the bear, including the sex, weight, body measurements, and reproductive history, and will remove a small, nonfunctional tooth to acquire a DNA sample and determine the bear’s age. See a short video of this bear examination process.
Upon completion of the short procedure, biologists will carefully return the bear to its den, where it will remain throughout the winter months.
The DNR urges anyone who finds a den to leave it alone. It is illegal to disturb a bear’s den or disturb, harm, or molest a bear in its den. Those who think they have found a den should report it and allow DNR biologists to further investigate.