READSBORO – With bear season starting Sept. 1, hunters are asked to avoid shooting bears in the Readsboro/Searsburg area that have been fitted with collars.
Wind power study
The collars are part of a seven-year study on the movements of black bears, said Biologist Forrest Hammond of the Fish and Wildlife Department. Hammond, who leads the state’s bear project, said the study is being paid for by Iberdrolla Renewables as a requirement for a wind power project the company is proposing.
Hammond said this is the first study in the country involving black bears and wind power.
During the 1990s, black bear studies were done with the Stratton Mountain ski area, and data was used to create development plans for other ski resorts across Vermont. He said the plan is to put collars on six bears sometime in September. Each collar collects and stores Global Positioning System data and is also fitted with a VHF emitter, allowing the bears to be located with radio antennas.
Come March, Hammond said, the VHF signals will be used to find the bears in their dens so the positioning data on the collars can be downloaded. The collars will then go back on, and the process will be repeated, provided the bear isn’t killed.
Hammond said the collars will make the bear’s neck look “lumpier” and may be fitted with an orange tag, but may not be visible for hunters to notice before shooting. He said if a bear with a collar
is taken, the hunter is asked to notify the Fish and Wildlife Department.
“It’s not illegal, nobody is going to be prosecuted,” Hammond said, adding that with past studies, hunters have been good about notifying the state of harvested, tagged animals.
He said all of the check stations hunters are required to use have been notified of the collars and signs will be put up around Readsboro, Searsburg, and Whitingham reminding hunters of the study.
He said the department mainly wants the collar back and to speak with the hunter to learn about it. Also, depending on when it was tranquilized, the meat may not be fit to eat.
The bears will be caught using a barrel trap then tranquilized for one hour while they are fitted with a collar and weighed. Hammond said juvenile animals will be avoided, as they tend to wander farther than adults. After this year, up to 12 may be collared. The study is to last seven years and will take data prior to the turbine construction as well as after.
Known as the Deerfield Wind Project, the project is the first to be proposed on federal forest land. In addition to permission from the Vermont Public Service Board (which has been granted, along with the requirement for the study) the project needs the U.S. Forest Service’s approval before it can go forward.
A decision from the service is expected in October.
Hammond said the study will stop if the project isn’t cleared, but the data collected will be kept by the state for possible future use.
Western Ecosystems Technology Inc., a company based in Wyoming with a field office in Waterbury, has been awarded the bid to conduct the study. Hammond said the entire seven-year project will cost Iberdrolla $500,000.
He said the Fish and Wildlife Department is involved because technically the wildlife in Vermont is the property of the state. In this case, the Forest Service will give Western Ecosystems an operating permit to perform the study, even before its made a decision on the wind project.
Bear season in Vermont runs until Nov. 16. According to Fish and Wildlife, there are a little over 6,000 black bears in the state, more than there have been in the past 20 years. The number exceeds the 4,500 to 6,000 range targeted by the Vermont Big Game Management Plan adopted in 2010.
Hammond said that two decades ago, the bear population was bellow 3,000, and existed mainly in the Northeast Kingdom.
He said the area where the study is being conducted has a high concentration of the animals.
“Now we are seeing more incidents of bears doing damage, primarily where they are attracted to foods such as bird seed, pet food left outside, garbage containers, bee hives, barbecues, livestock, and field corn,” Hammond said, adding that regulated hunting has been a way to control the bear population.
Last year, 537 black bears were taken by hunters in Vermont. Hammond said once they become adults, the mortality rate for a bear drops, with the only real threats being hunters or cars.
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