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Unity students seeing fewer bears in wild

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Report wraps up third year of landmark Unity College Bear Study

UNITY -- The Unity College Bear Study has gained new insights about the lives and habits of the Maine black bears.

The findings are included in a report released at the three-year mark of the study, undertaken by Unity College undergraduates in association with faculty advisers and with the cooperation of local landowners and state wildlife officials.

The Unity College Bear Study, a first-of-its-kind study that directly involves undergraduates, 'is a perfect example of how sustainability science enriches the college experience of Unity students across the curriculum, combining classroom learning with field skill building and experience,' President-elect Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said. 'Our Sustainability Science focus means that, instead of one bear research team, there are many.

'This study provides opportunities for students to get involved in many and varied aspects of real-life, large mammal research and management,' said Associate Professor of Wildlife Biology George Matula, who joined the Unity College faculty in August 2011 as associate professor of Wildlife Biology after serving with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for 30 years.

'Students work on specific aspects of the study, such as planning the study; designing databases, conducting Geographic Information Systems analyses; deploying bear culvert traps and cable foot traps; conducting DNA analyses of bear hairs; performing blood analyses; and chemically immobilizing and handling bears,' Matula said. 'The work has applicability to multiple classes. Students do not just work with one professor, they work with many. That is unique for undergraduate students.'

Study participants bait and trap bears in central Maine, then collar and track them to learn about their home range, habitat use, whether they occasionally move far afield, winter denning and reproductive success. Data gathered are compared to that collected by the state.

Highlights of Year 3 include:

A 180-pound male bear was the only new bear captured during the 2015 trapping season: captured and collared July 15 in Troy. He was subsequently documented expanding his home range over a large area.

The Education Team is fine-tuning programs at several educational levels to present to local schools.

Dr. Jennifer Clark and her students are analyzing more than 20 hours of video data from two bears collared by the study team, under the leadership of Stephanie Campau and faculty adviser Dr. Jennifer Cartier.

Dr. Peggy Hogan is refining the massive Access database, which houses most of the Unity College Bear Study data, including protocols, photos, and videos.

The Scat Team, under the leadership of Hailey Glasko and faculty advisor Dr. Cheryl Frederick, is continuing to analyze numerous bear scats collected during the past three field seasons to understand more about bears' health and dietary requirements.

In the spring, researchers with the Unity College Bear Study acquired bear vs. vehicle collision data from the Maine Department of Transportation which revealed 18 bear vs. vehicle collisions in Wildlife Management District 23 since 1992, including three collision mortalities of bears tagged by the Unity College Bear Study. Ten of the collisions were between 2010 and 2014, and 15 were on Interstate 95, suggesting vehicle collision mortalities may have a significant impact on bear recolonization in the study area.

Members of the Unity College Bear Study also established a partnership with the MDOT and with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife wardens to report bear road kills to allow data collection on untagged roadkill bears.

Since 2013, the Unity College Bear Study has had 34 captures of 23 different bears, and has worked with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife to collar and release an additional two bears, both orphans, in Unity.

Currently, the Unity College Bear Study does not have funding to support another summer field season. Unity College personnel are seeking funding from outside sources to continue the study on a long-term basis.


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