The Monarch Butterfly

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(Author’s photo of first Monarch butterfly seen third week in July)

 

In late May a friend of mine in Abiquiu told me that he saw at least 10 Monarch butterflies clustered together in one group, a sighting that warmed my heart because the year before I had seen so few.

 

Last year I was fortunate enough to have a milkweed plant seed itself by the casita. When the seeds ripened in the fall I scattered the silky airborne parachutes under the original plant hoping that the milkweed would re –seed. This spring I was rewarded. Three new plants emerged in a place that would be watered as long as we had summer rains. When I left Abiquiu the plants were doing well, but summer would tell the tale…

 

Milkweed is the one plant that Monarchs love and the only plant on which they will lay their eggs. I hoped that a small cluster of these plants might provide sweet nectar that would entice a few more of these butterflies to visit the casita during the summer and during fall migration.

 

It should be mentioned that milkweed also provides an intriguing form of protection for this butterfly. The milkweed juices make the Monarch poisonous to predatory birds. Additionally, the deep orange color of the butterfly alerts predators to the fact that their intended meal might be toxic.

 

Here in Maine I have a field that is covered in milkweed from early July onward. I have raised many Monarch’s to adulthood over a period of thirty years because it has been relatively easy to find the eggs which are laid on the underside of the milkweed leaves beginning in late summer. The scent of the flower is, to me, intoxicating, and the clusters of tiny blossoms are so beautiful to look at in their myriad shades of pale pink salmon.

 

Ever since the milkweed started blooming this summer I have been on the lookout for Monarchs. I saw my first butterfly at Popham beach on the coast where Milkweed plants are plentiful growing amidst the sand dunes, and in wild coastal fields. I then glimpsed two around my house this week, and remain hopeful that I will see more…

 

Monarch butterflies are perhaps best known for their migrating habits. No other butterflies migrate as far; this insect flies up to three thousand miles each year. Millions of these butterflies will fly from Canada to Mexico this fall.

 

More astonishing, this entire trip will take four generations to complete. The Monarchs begin their southern migration September to October. Eastern and northeastern populations, originating in southern Canada and the United States, travel to overwintering sites in central Mexico. They arrive at their roosting trees in November. When the butterflies reach their destination in Mexico they return to the same trees that their forebearers did sometimes roosting deep in the forest. They remain in their roosts during the winter months and then begin their northern migration in March. No individual butterfly completes the entire round trip. Female monarchs lay eggs for a subsequent generation during the northward migration. Four generations are involved in the annual cycle.

 

Western populations, which would include the Monarchs in New Mexico, follow a similar pattern migrating annually from regions west of the Rocky Mountains to overwintering sites on the coast of California.

 

Many folks know that the Monarch butterfly population has dropped 90 percent over the past 20 years (Center for Biological Diversity). The species has become ‘functionally extinct’, meaning that the numbers are so low now that the Monarchs have little hope of long-term survival. Scientists look to Monarchs and other butterflies as indicators of environmental health, since they are easily affected by air and water pollution, severe weather, pesticides, the presence of other toxins and, of course, Climate Change. It breaks my heart to acknowledge that most folks have not paid attention to the decline of these beautiful insects. Globally we are paying a huge price for our blindness and indifference.

 

When it comes to Monarchs the present is what we have, and I encourage anyone that gardens to create a milkweed patch for these wanderers in the hopes that we might extend their collective lifetime a few more years. It’s important to note that milkweed needs adequate water. Refusing to use lethal backyard pesticides and planting milkweed are two things we can do to help these glorious orange insects in the short term.

Luna

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This morning when I took the dogs out around 6 AM I saw a beautiful Luna moth lying on emerald green moss covered ground. By the looks of its antenna I surmised this one was male because its ‘feathers’ were so long. In the past the sight of one of these deceased moths would have made me sad because I know that this moth in its present winged state is birthed without even a mouth to eat, and as soon as it mates it dies. But now I see Luna in a different light, as one whose time to die has come…Besides, I knew that the female that this male had mated with had laid eggs that would one day hatch…

 

When I bent down to pick up the pale green four inch wide insect with its double set of eyes, I noticed how torn and tattered its wings were, perhaps a result of a would be predator that discovered too late how unpleasant these moths can taste. Or perhaps it was just old age.

 

As defense mechanisms, larvae emit clicks as warnings. Surprisingly, they also regurgitate intestinal contents that have a deterrent effect on a variety of predators. The double sets of eyes on the lime green adult wings are believed to confuse predators as well. The elongated tails of the hind -wings are believed to jam echolocation used by predatory bats, although I hardly think bats are a problem around here. I am always amazed that insects have such sophisticated means of protecting themselves!

 

I brought the moth in the house to look at more closely wondering just where around here on the ground the larva had hatched into its adult form. Females lay 200–400 eggs, singly or in small groups, on the underside of leaves. Egg laying starts the evening after mating is completed and goes on for several days. Eggs hatch in about a week.

 

Each instar – the period between molts – generally takes about 4–10 days. There are five instars before cocooning occurs. At the end of each instar, a small amount of silk is placed on the major vein of a leaf and the larva molts leaving its green exoskeleton behind. After the final instar, larvae stay on the same tree where they hatched until it is time to descend to the ground to make a cocoon. At this point the caterpillar will spin its cocoon around a shriveled leaf that is lying on the ground. When females emerge from cocoons they fly to a tree, emit pheromones, and wait there for males to find them. Males can detect these molecules at a distance of several miles, flying in the direction the wind is coming from until reaching the female. Luna moth females mate with the first males to find them, a process that typically starts after midnight and takes several hours. The entire Luna Moth cycle usually occurs in the space of one year. In the North Country one generation of moths is produced.

Luna moths are what are known as giant silk moths – some have wingspans of seven inches. This moth was the first to be recorded in American insect literature. These most magnificent moths have a range that extends from Canada to Florida, and like every other insect this moth is succumbing to habitation loss, pesticides, logging, light pollution and other pressures associated with Climate Change.

There was a time when I used to see these moths each summer… I remember so well the year one fell out of the sky onto my head while I was standing on the porch of my camp… but these days, the sight of each one, living or dead, is a gift to be treasured and written about.

Meeting at the Edge

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She looks like a child, expectant, this seventy four year old woman as she approaches the lake to collect more “toadpoles,” her word for tadpoles that are Eastern toads in the making.

 

The wiggly black dots swimming around in sandy shallows are such a welcome sight. She has been searching for them all spring. Just the week before (June 12) she heard toads trilling in unison in a boggy place across the pond; the solitary strings would appear within days. She thought she had missed her toad opportunity because she cut her hand and couldn’t go out in her kayak to search for eggs… then today when while walking, she glimpsed the tadpoles huddled together by the shore. Natural Grace had intervened.

 

The water is clear until she muddies it with her boots; the tadpoles scatter and it is a challenge to catch even one. Depositing a single toadpole in her bucket she bends low to capture another, impressed by the wily behavior of these creatures who seem to know that she is after them. One by one she scoops up the little black bodies, pouring them gently into her bucket. She doesn’t like frightening them.

 

The child in her is thrilled, living in the moment. She has been raising tadpoles and catching frogs and toads for most of her life.

 

The aging adult has fallen away, her fears stilled by being alive in the immediate present. She will place some of her catch in the small pond by the garden, the one the bears drink from, and the others will find homes in the vernal pond she dug next to the brook.

 

With all amphibians the most endangered species on earth, she hopes that her small ponds will allow them to transform safely into healthy wetland creatures who will seek out the deep shade of the forest, emerald mosses, and moisture that she can provide. She simply wants them to live. She can’t imagine an Earth without a symphony of frog songs and toad trills and doesn’t want to try.

 

The day is blue and gold with a light northwest wind – she notes the date – June 17th – the day the toadpoles found her at the edge of North Pond.

Snowy Comes to Maine

 

 

719e8726-ac9c-11e3-bdba-8d0644e09485-850x478$large.jpg“who whoo WHOOH…”

I will never forget the first Snowy owl I ever saw… I was living in Andover, Maine when a huge white bird appeared in January and soared over the lower fields. It was a very cold winter in 1993 and a pair of these birds became part of my winter bird watching. Their courtship call is quite distinct – three hoots with the loudest whooh at the end. I heard other sounds too but don’t remember the details. When I got my first close up look at one of these magnificent owls I was stunned by their beauty – intense yellow eyes, a black beak and oh, all those pearl white feathers. One had mole brown bars. The Snowy is one of the largest species of owl in North America, and is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark spots; the young are heavily barred. I believe it was an adult male that I saw at close range. Occasionally one would fly ahead of the car as I drove out of my solitary mile long driveway, a behavior that intrigued me…

Well, Snowy owls are back in Maine! At the Portland Jetport, as many folks know, these owls and those that love seeing them are causing a “problem.” The owls are just trying to make a living but humans are apparently blocking emergency exits.

Many of us will recall that there was a boom in the Snowy population starting around 2011. One owl could be seen perched on a telephone pole between Bryant Pond and South Paris for much of the winter. Recently these birds are becoming uncommonly common! They have popped up in Aroostook County, the mountains of Acadia in Maine, and have been seen as far south as Florida and Hawaii and this year Snowy has made it as far south as New Mexico!

The Snowy owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home. However, this species is also nomadic because lemming population fluctuations force it to relocate to find food. Recently we have learned that the Snowy has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes

Snowy owls “normally” (is there such a thing today) nest in the tundra of Northern Canada and Europe. Snowy owls are attracted to open areas like marshes, open fields, coastal dunes, and prairies that appear somewhat similar to tundra. During the years when they are found in the Northeastern US, juveniles frequent appear in developed areas so keep your eyes out for a sighting. All ages spend a fair amount of their time over water in the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean, mostly on ice floes.

When perched Snowy owls often face the sun; Snowy owls appear to orient themselves into the sun or wind depending on prevailing weather conditions. No doubt they are happy to bask in whatever source of heat comes their way.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with good visibility is chosen, such as the top of a mound with ready access to hunting areas and a lack of snow. Abandoned eagle’s nests and even gravel bars are used for nesting. The female scrapes a small hollow before laying the eggs. Breeding occurs in May to June, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 3 to 11 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents. Although the young hatch asynchronously, with the largest in the brood sometimes 10 to 15 times as heavy as the smallest, there is little sibling conflict, a fact that I find fascinating and somewhat unusual. Both the male and the female defend the nest and their young from predators sometimes using distraction as a ruse. Males also defend the nest by standing guard nearby while the female incubates the eggs and broods the young. Both sexes will attack approaching predators, dive-bombing them!

As previously mentioned this powerful bird relies primarily on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season. They are opportunistic hunters and prey species may vary considerably, especially in winter. Some of the larger mammal prey includes rabbits, hares muskrats squirrels (we could use lots of these birds) raccoons moles and mice. Birds preyed upon include ptarmigan, ducks geese shorebirds and songbirds as well as other owls and raptors. Most of the owls’ hunting is done in the “sit and wait” style; prey may be captured on the ground or in the air; fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using sharp talons. Unlike most owls that hunt at night Snowy owls are diurnal hunting in darkness and in light.

Snowy owls, like other carnivorous birds, swallow their small prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Regurgitation often takes place at regular perches, where dozens of pellets may be found.

Previous population estimates of about 200,000 individuals are now regarded as substantially overestimated, and a total population size of 28,000 individuals is probable.

Catastrophic Climate Change guarantees that unless we radically reverse carbon emissions in the next twelve years Life as we know it will be over. The absence of Snowy will become just one more statistic on a planet that has lost its animal populations. So, if you are fortunate enough to glimpse one of these magnificent owls, remember to say goodbye.

Lamenting the Fall

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(Author’s backyard)

 

Our maple leaves are withered

drifting to the ground

without flames of fire

preceding their fall.

 

Last June I noticed

the shriveled leaves –

disturbing in summer

when trees leaf out

in emerald splendor.

 

Picking up leaf after leaf

it was hard to find

one without black spots

or dead brown skin.

 

All summer I mourned…

 

Witnessing the effects of

prolonged drought

did not prepare me for

what would come.

 

Dead leaves cluster together

under each thirst driven tree.

The flaming mountains

have turned to dust and ash.

 

Powerless to change

environmental patterns

created by human indifference

fuels ongoing rage and personal grief.

 

 

 

Working notes:

 

Returning from Abiquiu, New Mexico in June I noticed immediately that Maine maples were in trouble. All summer I have kept an uneasy eye on the bare branches of the crowns of these trees, already under assault from herbicides and continued drought conditions both of which have been escalating for years.

 

In 2017 I learned from scientific minded folks, what was already patently obvious – that drought had become a problem in the state of Maine. Because maples failed to leaf out properly this year and have suffered root loss many maples will eventually die.

 

I also discovered that that in addition to climate change, maples, already vulnerable, are being afflicted by three additional diseases that create fungal leaf spotting – Tar spot, Anthranose, and Phyllostica.

 

“Experts” tell us that as far as the fate of the trees go, we shall just have to wait and see.

 

Not much comfort for a Tree Woman who also happens to be me.

The Mountain Mother

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When I picked berries in the mountain field that first summer I could sense wave after wave of feeling rising up – seeping into my feet from the ground below. The sun spread blue heat over the hills and I bathed in summer’s glow. For the first time in my life I felt visible, witnessed for who I really was and accepted: I was loved –unconditionally loved by a Mother. That She was a mountain field didn’t seem odd at all. I loved her back – fiercely. I marveled. To be in love with my goddess, the one that lived in this field, brook, young forest, the one who inhabited each of these rolling hills and mountains seemed so natural. Remarkably, She celebrated my presence not only by gifting me with a love that ran like a great underground river beneath me but because She created a palpable sense of belonging. I belonged to Her. She loved me just because I was. I couldn’t get over it. My gratitude knew no bounds. All I wanted to do was to serve her…

She was visible in so many ways – in the riot of purple and green jack in the pulpits that sprung out of the sphagnum moss behind the camp in the moist valley that often filled with water, through the solitary pink lady slipper that appeared by the bridge that crossed the brook, the tiny white swamp violets, the blue fringed gentians and pearl-white turtleheads that popped up in the meadow fed by it’s own spring in the center of the field.

I glimpsed her face in the cedar that sprung to life in the rich wooded soil that bordered the brook, she sang to me from the wild apple branches that bowed over rippling water, she blinked through each firefly night, burst into a “high” when thunder and lightening churned up the waters and the brook overflowed – White Fire crackling out of her clouds and slamming into me.

I moved here from the seacoast to live at the edge of the wilderness so I thought. The “power of  place” had her own agenda. She decreed I had come here to re-claim childhood memories in these beautiful round tree studded granite mountains, and later to endure and make peace with the Dark Mother. During those first days I was flooded with images: My little brother and I playing in the brook, finding frogs and salamanders in the woods, chasing butterflies in the field, watching blue birds and fireflies, sinking into sleep under a star swept sky. How much I missed Davey! Sometimes it almost seemed as if he was hiding just out of sight. One blue morning the hawk circled over my head and I heard my brother calling. When I discovered her feathered wing in the field I believed that he lived again through me. Miracles happened here. Even his ashes found a resting place by this brook after 32 years spent in my mother’s stifling attic. Here the Mountain Mother will watch over him until the earth is no more. Is it any wonder I felt peace?

Whenever I walked down the hill through the field the intoxicating scent of fresh water pulled me like a lodestone towards the brook. Water, my first love was water; without it I shriveled like plants do in the late summer heat becoming dry lifeless heaps. Spring was my favorite season in the mountains because water was the only music I could hear around the camp – sometimes deafening in intensity it tumbled over the falls and cascaded over lichened stone – granite boulders rarely impeded the flow. The sounds of the swollen brook soothed me, quieting my racing mind, allowing images to flower into words, poems, or prayers of gratitude. Oh, I loved her so. And so it continued for a number of years…

I began to experience a darker side of the Mountain Mother when two intolerable family losses piled up on me like a cairn of heavy stones. I first saw her in the stark cliffs, in the ice that came too early and lingered to long, in the fierce winter winds that blew mercilessly, split tree limbs, in the mountains of snow that froze solid ripping off roof tops and caving in old homes. My dreams became dark and ominous full of dark men and darker women. I was full of rage and sorrow.

When the rape of the forest began I was in a state of disbelief, unable to process that so much tree destruction could occur with such relentless precision, could blot out ‘the peace of the wild things’ so absolutely without anyone noticing what was happening. This is when I learned that the “Tree of Life” is not a metaphor: rather trees are life because they not only provide most of Nature with the oxygen needed to breathe but they support  wildlife by creating a “home place” for all. While the trees screeched and shuddered as they fell, owls and hawks disappeared. The gouged out earth flooded and the rain swept rich topsoil in great weeping rivulets down the now distorted face of the Mountain Mother. Many birds were silenced; all suffered habitat loss. Bears, deer, coyotes, beaver, woodcock and grouse, ducks and wild geese, fox and moose continued to be hunted down, shot and trapped by those who believe they had “god-given” rights to kill – not primarily for food, but for the thrill. A cranky mob of crows croaked and cawed from the tops of old snags, their numbers stable, perhaps a testament to Nature’s tenacity? Or were they a caucus of old bird women in disguise uttering unintelligible omens of what lay ahead? Nature was under siege and I couldn’t bear it. Her mirror was cracking. When the Mountain Mother turned her darkest face toward me I questioned my own sanity.

Year after year I struggled to make peace with the ongoing slaughter of trees and animals, with neighborhood bullies, with myself. When the gunning began in the valley, despair mushroomed even as I closed my windows to keep summer out. Hours of mindless target shooting, roaring trucks, earth-gouging machines, and belligerent thugs devoured the silence. Peace was on the run. Noise shattered what was left of the mirror. I grieved. Leave taking became reality. I put my house up for sale.

A month ago feeling overcome by sorrow I co-opted a song and re –wrote it. When I read it out loud with my two dogs, dove, and log cabin as witnesses, my voice cracked.

My Lady of the Shadows

 

All year long she touched me

Gathered me to her soul

Shrouded in moon and stars

She held me thorns and all

 

And the Light came through her body

And the Night fell through her grace

All year long she touched me

And I knew her face to face

 

 I find her in the Shadows

Where I thank her with my heart

For keeping me so close to her

When I believed I stood apart

 

And the Light comes through her body

And the Night falls through her grace

All year long she touches me

I know her face to face.

I wrote the words in the past and the present tense to remind myself that I do know her as the benevolent Mountain Mother, although it is getting so much harder for me to reach her beneficent side. I need relief from personal suffering and human induced noise to hear Her voice. It was late in the afternoon when I hung the words up on the wall next to Guadalupe’s shrine. When I walked over to “her “ window as I call my plant window because it looks out over the eastern mountains, I was stunned because those glorious mounds seemed to light up of their own accord – in all these years I had never gazed at deep golden light so intense that the mountains seemed to have been lit with it from within. I gasped. The sight affected me on such a visceral level that I just stood there with my mouth open…miracles still happen here.

Later I understood: this Lady of the Shadows is the sorrowful side of the goddess. Because rage and sorrow are conjoined as one, together they encompass the dark aspect of the Mountain Mother (Demeter’s rage and sorrow express this aspect well). Although her joyous side has been suppressed in me for many years I was comforted.

I also think that this narrative is about something greater than my own story. I believe the Spirit of Nature has been separated from her Soul. Her body is in mourning, her body is burning. We have stripped our Mountain Mother of sentience – of deep knowing, deep feeling, and natural wisdom. At present Her only function is to serve the devouring maw of patriarchal culture as a commodity, or worse, as a sacrificial mother. Is it any wonder that grief pours out of me? What happens to the Earth is happening to me.

I will always love this land but I have reached the conclusion that I must find another place to live. At 70 I plan to visit the mountainous region of Abiquiu, New Mexico where I hope to meet the Wild Goddess in her desert form. There are rivers there that flow down from the mountains… A desert is by natural inclination open space but it is also a place where the earth meets the sky, a place perhaps where a wounded spirit, soul, and body can heal? Deserts, I recall, are blissfully silent most of the time. ‘The peace of the wild things’ still exists in cactus flowers, roadrunners and ravens, lizards, pinion pine, mesquite and rabbit bush. Perhaps a mountainous desert made from crushed stone, the first life form on earth, is a place to start over?

The Elusive Black Bear : A Natural History

The Elusive Black Bear: Natural History

Ursus americanus is the smallest of the three species of bears found in North America and the most reclusive. In Maine black bears although rarely encountered, often provoke irrational fear. Terrifying images of snarling black bears with bloody jaws poised for attack appear on the covers of hunting magazines and over the Internet, while thousands of children hug cuddly teddy bears. These extremes in attitude and behavior suggest that the bear embodies the Spirit of the Wilderness in both its most frightening and comforting aspects. But what do we really know about black bears as a mammalian species?

Paleontology teaches us that this shy denizen of the forest co – evolved into its present form on this continent 500,000 years ago with huge meat eating predators like the 1500 lb short faced bear and the Dire wolf which are now extinct. Black bears are native to this continent and are found nowhere else. To adapt and survive as prey animals black bears needed forest cover and learned to flee from the first sign of danger by hiding in thick brush or by climbing trees (the primary reason we rarely encounter them in the woods today). Before Europeans came to this country black bears could be found throughout the United States.

Today, because of extirpation and de –forestation black bears inhabit less than a half of their original range. Currently they are most commonly found in the northern parts of this country and in Canada where large tracts of arboreal woods still exist. Their dependence on mature forest for cover, protection, and for fall mast (food: beechnuts, acorns) is presently threatened in Maine because we continue to harvest beech and oaks before they are old enough to produce good crops of nuts. Maine has about 16 percent of mature nut producing forest left.

Although considered omnivores, black bears are 85 percent vegetarian; consuming tender green shoots, corms, roots, buds and flowers in early spring. Tasty beetles, grubs, ants, and larva come next providing the bulk of bear protein. It isn’t until the berry crops appear in early summer that black bears begin to gain weight. Without an adequate fall mast of high caloric acorns, beechnuts (in northern Maine the only nut crop) black bears won’t gain enough weight to survive hibernation/torpor. Of all the possible foods a bear might eat only five percent of a bear’s diet consists of fish, carrion, or the occasional fawn/young moose.

After emerging from their dens in April it takes bears about two/three weeks for their metabolism to return to normal. By May bears are hungry and may be driven (instinct overrides caution) into people’s backyards to eat birdseed and unsecured garbage if natural foods aren’t available. Wandering young sub- adult males that are also searching for new territories are the greatest offenders. Removing birdfeeders and securing garbage can easily remedy this conflict.

Mothers with cubs emerge last in the spring and stay close to the den while the cubs (from one to three) continue to practice their climbing skills. Mothers teach their small (6-10 LB) cubs to tree themselves at the first sign of danger. As the season progresses the mother will leave her young hidden safely in the trees to forage on her own or when she visits a bait site later that summer.

Contrary to popular belief, it would be difficult to get between a mother and her cubs because at the first sign of danger she trees the cubs and runs away (however, grizzly bears and polar bears may attack if they believe their cubs are threatened). In Maine females breed in June and July and practice delayed implantation which means that the blastocyst floats freely in uterus and will not develop until late fall after the mother enters the den. If the female hasn’t put on enough fat she will abort. Cubs are born in January weighing about 12 ounces, and mother is awake and alert responding to each cub’s needs. Cubs’ blue eyes open at about four weeks and they begin to climb around the den shortly thereafter. Black bear milk is richer than that of any mammal in North America and the cubs will suckle well into their second year. First year cubs will den with mother in the fall (unless the mother has been shot) and family break –up occurs the following spring (early June in Maine) when the female goes into estrus. This long period of childhood/adolescence – 17 to 19 months is needed so that black bears can teach their young the skills they need to survive. Although females maintain home ranges of about 5-6 square miles (that they will share with their daughters) they will travel up to 50 miles out of their home territories to show the cubs where to find berries and nuts.

Black Bears have been prey animals for a long time and are understandably very NERVOUS around humans avoiding them whenever possible. All are very much afraid of other bears until they recognize them as kin. Females with cubs are particularly afraid of males who will sometimes kill a cub in order to bring a female back into estrus. Not much is known about adult male bears beyond the fact that they leave their mother’s territory as sub adults in their second or third year, appear to have very large/flexible ranges and have exceptional navigational abilities.

Black bears have a very large brain in relationship to their body size and scientific studies indicate that these animals are highly intelligent and surpass chimps in some learning abilities. Black bears have also been observed using tools. What bears do with body fluids during what can be a six to seven month “hibernation” is a mystery. They do not defecate or urinate during torpor (unless a female is birthing cubs) and they do not lose muscle tissue.

Without Minnesota’s bear biologist Lynn Roger’s groundbreaking “trust based research” which includes but is not limited to telemetry, videos and den cams we wouldn’t know that we could radio collar bears without tranquilizers, or that we could develop relationships with some bears in order to learn about bear behavior from observing individuals and kinship groups in the wild. For more than 30 years Lynn and his students and literally hundreds of participants have been collecting and analyzing data in the field by observing bears as they forage, interact, mate, rest etc. With trust based research the goal is to have the black bears become comfortable enough with humans to ignore them while the bears are being observed in their natural habitat. Ironically, the most difficult part of this discipline is getting a bear to tolerate human presence. Most bears are simply too shy. If bears were as dangerous as we are told they are by the state agencies like Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MDIF&W) trust based research simply could not have been done for all these years without incident. In Maine the MDIF&W does not practice a methodology that includes direct interaction with black bears. Why? The notion of developing individual relationships with bears undermines the “official” MDIF&W position that black bears are dangerous predators that must be killed in order to control their numbers.

We have a three – month long hunting season in Maine. We are the only state in this country that utilizes steel traps to hunt bears. Bears have been known to gnaw off their paws to get free. The use of hounds outfitted with sophisticated GPS units violates traditional hunting ethics, as does the practice of bear baiting which only began in the eighties. What kind of sportsmanship is involved with all three practices when a bear becomes the unwilling victim to those who simply stand there and shoot a trapped bear, a treed bear, or a bear with his head in a can? Worse, as any skilled field researcher will attest to, it is almost impossible to sex a bear before shooting it. What this means practically is that almost as many female bears are shot in this state as males. If those females have first year cubs they will die a death of slow starvation, or be killed by other omnivores. In the last ten years Maine has voted twice to defeat a bill that would end the above hunting practices which would encourage hunters to hunt black bears in a more traditional manner as they do in other states.

Ursus americanus has been in its present form for 500,000 years, 300,000 years before humans inhabited the earth. Bears are literally our Elders. It seems ironic to me that we need to “manage” and “control” these animals when black bears thrived on this continent without human intervention for millenium. I am also dismayed because humans continue to ignore a chilling fact: it is the exploding human population that is devouring earth’s resources at an unprecedented level. Animal populations aren’t the problem, we are.

Indigenous peoples had deep respect for the black bear. Many eastern and western tribes believed that the bear was the “Owner of the Animals” and the most powerful plant healer of all. Acquiring black bear “medicine” involved complex rituals that included hunting “Grandfather” bear who was also believed to sacrifice himself to feed the People. Perhaps we have something to learn from the way these elusive denizens of the forest conduct themselves? If bears ruled the world we would have no wars.

The chances of being killed by a black bear are about a million to one. An important question to ask is why so few of these wild bears retaliate when we have treated them with such cruelty? One obvious answer is that black bears are reclusive prey animals that want to co –exist with humans in peace if only we would let them.