So, week three was very interesting and I worked an extra day. That extra day was this past Wednesday. I was alerted the day before that "tomorrow is probably your last chance to go on a bear capture with Randy (Maine's bear biologist)". I didn't even know this was occurring, so I suddenly cleared my schedule for the next day and prepared for a hike up to La Grange to meet up with Maine's bear crew.
Now, mind you that morning was a bit of a cluster; we got a pretty nasty amount of snow fall. My car is a two wheel drive little sedan, and having to drive through the back country roads to meet my coworkers at a location in Canaan was a real challenge. Cars were off the road here and there, the roads hadn't been plowed for hours, and help seemed far away. I could've turned around and honestly should have, but pressed on.
Turns out, they moved from Canaan to a location in Clinton, so I felt a little goose-chasey trying to find them. I finally located all of them up an icy driveway, where two biologists stood with hockey helmets on.
"We've got two deer in a trap" my co-intern told me.
I didn't even KNOW we were doing a deer capture today. I've seen the deer crew at work before, but had never seen them capture a deer. Normally, only one wonders into the square kennel-like netted structure, but this one had two. So, Kyle Ravana, Maine's deer biologist, and Kelsey Sullivan, Maine's gamebird/waterfowl biologist, were padded up and helmeted, ready to get in the ring with the deer.
The purpose of the deer study is to monitor deer population and habitat use; each captured deer get's a radio collar and ear tags. If a hunter shoots a deer with ear tags, this information is used to model the deer's population size in a "mark-recapture" style equation. The collar lets biologists find out where they're hanging out.
So, with myself quickly fidgeting my camera gear together and my fellow biologists getting ready, we full-on sprinted toward the trap (called a 'Clover Trap') where the deer were held. The faster we got there, the less likely a deer was going to hurt itself or pull the trap out of the ground and escape.
We all fell in unison down an icy hill. Our ice grips didn't do a thing for us as we slipped along the woods at the fastest speed we could go.
The two deer saw us coming from a ways and were panicking. Probably more surprising was when the two armored biologists opened up the door and tackled them both. They thrashed, kicked, and bounced about in that small trap; one almost got out with its head just out of the door. They let out goat-like bleats as they were wrestled down. It looked violent, but these biologists have done this over a hundred times before, and they knew the proper deer-martial-arts techniques to avoid accidentally breaking a leg or catching a hoof to the throat.
With them pinned down, Kendall, a highly revered and humble wildlife biologist from my office in Sidney, began to rip out the equipment from his bag. Two collars, ear tag clip, ear tags, pliers, and a screw driver. All high-speed.
The biologists were sucking wind from exhaustion as the deer still fought. Kendall had me load up the ear tag clips and get the collars ready to rock. One collar was screwed on and adjusted. Then the other. Then came the ear tags, much to the dismay of the deer. With each numbered and collared, we opened the door entirely, and the biologists let off the deer. They bounded off, white fluffy tails a-floppin', slipping and actually falling on the ice where we had. Everyone fist bumped and congratulated each other. A real efficient biologist team doing some awesome work.
But, me and my co-intern were on a time crunch to meet the bear crew up in Old Town. So, with conditions still poor, I parked my car at the nearest Dunkin' Donuts and hopped in the IFW truck, all the way up to a gas station in Old Town. Three vans of University of Maine Orono wildlife seniors awaited. The biologists showed up in their much bigger, much nicer trucks, with some mean looking snowmobiles in pickup.
The bear crew is a bad bunch (of course, "bad" meaning "really, really cool" in this sense). It consists of Randy Cross, a 31-year Maine bear veteran with scars all over from bear captures gone wrong; Jen Vashon, Maine's lynx biologist and Bear Study Leader; Lisa "Kid" Bates, a real fierce Unity grad who survived a helicopter crash with an impaled leg and amnesia, dragging her unconscious and horrifically wounded copilot through the woods to safety; Ethan "Roach", an ex-deer crew member; and Jake "Jumper", a smoke-jumper who jumped into forest fires for a living and perhaps the only current biologist in Maine with no college education.
We drove over to a location in LaGrange where a collared black bear was hibernating. A mile or so into the woods, in a patch of alders, under a collapsed tree, was a lone, small black bear; it was a yearling. Normally, they still have their mothers with them at this time.
The bear as it was found; partially covered in snow and curled into at tight ball. We ensured it was in better cover by the time we left.
The bear crew pondered at what may have happened to the mother; hunting, roadkill, abandonment; who knows.
The crew tranquilized it with a jab-stick and let it settle before moving it out. After about half an hour, it was considered clear, and they tugged it out and carried it over to a blanket with an assortment of gear.
Since it was tranquilized, this was a bit more relaxed and less pressed for time than the deer. The bear crew took a shed paw pad sample, its weight (40lbs!), and other data. They also fixed a new collar onto him since he was beginning to outgrow the one he got as a new cub.
About to weigh the bear.
About to give the bear a tattoo identification on the gums with a tattoo gun.
Affixing the new radio collar.
After this was all said and done, we administered the antidote for the tranquilizer, placed him back into his den, and "tucked him in" by placing pine boughs and brush over his den to help him keep warm. He was, after all, covered in snow when he was found.
I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it out with the bear crew again as it requires a huge time commitment, but I hope to be catching more deer in the near future!
Next week will finally be when I get into fisheries stuff. Should be fun!