Thinking Citizen Blog — The Black Bear Returns to New England — the Miracle and the Nightmare
Thinking Citizen Blog — Wednesday is Climate Change, the Environment, and Sustainability Day
Today’s Topic: The Black Bear Returns to New England — the Miracle and the Nightmare
Imagine being the parent of a toddler roaming around in the backyard as usual when suddenly a black bear appears. What is your reaction? Meanwhile, preservationists are thrilled that a species on the “brink of extinction” not long ago is back! Hallelujah! “Now the question is whether the expanding bear population in the state will cross I-495 and settle into the suburbs they once called home,” (Billy Baker, Boston Globe) Today, a few more details on the black bear. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
BLACK BEARS IN MASSACHUSETTS — BY THE NUMBERS
1. 1970s — 80 to 100 left, all in the Berkshires. 1990: back to 1000. 2022 estimate: 5000. Average lifespan in the wild: 18 years. Record in wild: 39 years. Record in captivity: 44 years.
2. Males: 130 to 600 pounds! Females 100 to 400 pounds.
3. “A litter of usually two or three cubs is born in the den in mid-to-late January and they remain with the sow (adult female) for about 17 months.”
NB: “Bears are territorial, so those bears that are entering the population are looking for new unoccupied territories, and much of the state has returned to habitat where they can do quite well, even into Eastern Massachusetts.” Bears today, as it were, are like the New Englanders in the 19th century moving west.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY — FROM KING TO PEST
1. “As settlement advanced inland to the Connecticut River Valley and the Berkshires, bears saw their forest habitat turned into farms, and their status lowered from king to pest.”
2. “Farmers could, and still can, legally kill any bear destroying their crops, at any time.”
3. “They nearly disappeared in the decades between the end of the Civil War and the onset of hunting regulations in the early 20th century.”
NB: The hunting season was reduced drastically — from 10 weeks in the 1950s to 1 week in the 1970s. Now there are “three seasons” — September 6 to 24th, November 7th to 26th, and November 28th to December 10th.” Should there be more?
THE I-495 BARRIER — will breeding females cross the line? Time to get rid of your bird-feeders and chicken coops?
1. “Plenty of roaming males have crossed it, and just one can cover a lot of ground and create a lot of commotion. Over the past few months, the same bear has been spotted in Woburn, Tewksbury, Billerica, Peabody, Danvers, Middleton, and Newburyport, wildlife officials said. But importantly, the females have yet to make the leap.”
2. “That would be the next big news: females breeding inside 495,” said Dave Wattles, the bear biologist for MassWildlife. “They haven’t conquered it yet, and we’re still not getting reports of females much east of Worcester” outside of one area, which Wattles calls “the northern spur.”
3. “If you were to look at a map of the state and its highways, and imagined yourself as a bear, you’d see the easiest path to the coast is north of Route 2, through Middlesex County along the New Hampshire border and connecting to plentiful woods throughout Essex County that provide numerous paths to the shore.”
NB: “The best way to keep the bears at bay is exceedingly simple, specialists said: Get rid of bird-feeders and put electric fencing around chicken coops. They are the two biggest attractants to backyards and hardly anyone had either a few decades ago.”
FOOTNOTES — the North American and Global contexts, the teddy bear, Winnie the Pooh
1. The North American black bear population is estimated at 800,000.
2. That is “estimated to be twice as large as all other bear species combined.”
3. “Along with the brown bear (Ursus arctos), it is one of only two modern bear species not considered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) to be globally threatened with extinction.”
NB: “Morris Michtom, the creator of the teddy bear, was inspired to make the toy when he came across a cartoon of Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot an American black bear cub tide to a tree. The fictional character Winnie-the-Pooh was named after Winnipeg, a female American black bear cub that lived at the London Zoo from 1915 until her death in 1934. An American black bear cub, who in the spring of 1950 was caught in the Capitan Gap Fire, was made into the living representative of Smokey Bear, the mascot of the United States Forest Service.” (last link below)
QUOTE OF THE MONTH:
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#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20
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