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Mother Black Bear

February 11, 2011

Location: Sugarbush, VT
I seem to be on a bear roll lately, this time about American black bears (Ursus americanus), the smallest and most widespread of North American bears, though often weighing 500 pounds or more, they aren’t exactly petite.
Last week, I hosted a women’s ski camp at Sugarbush, Vermont. The ski area spans several peaks along a high ridge of the Green Mountains. The area between Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen is well-documented black bear habitat, so there is a keen interest in black bears at the resort. As the women in the camp gathered on the first morning, a member of the resort’s staff unaffiliated with the camp burst into the room. She pointed excitedly her laptop.
“Look at the bears!” she exclaimed, “You can see the babies!” Her laptop showed streaming video from a bear-cam that had been placed in a den (www.bears.org). The mother bear had both a yearling cub and twin newborns. Apparently, Mama Bear had mated successfully again though most female bears don’t give birth while nursing a cub. Interestingly, the yearling, named Hope, is proving to be a caring big sister who “helps” her mother with the infants as much as a hibernating bear can actively participate in any activity.
Though a hibernating bear is not deeply asleep, its metabolism slows way down. For three to five months of winter, they do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate. Females give birth in late January or early February during hibernation, typically to two cubs that weigh about 10 ounces each and are only about eight inches long. Cubs nurse for up to 18 months, which means Hope is likely nursing beside the newborns.
I’ve only seen one wild black bear. It was two summers ago while paddling on a multi-day canoe trip on the Smith River in Montana. An immature bear was playing in a shallow part of the river. He took one look at our canoe, sprinted from the water then bolted up a tree. I’m not sure who was more wary and nervous, him or me, but at least I calmed down enough to get a photo of him.

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