Suburban Massachusetts is known for many things - one of which is the abundance of wildlife, as well as the common assortment of critter pizzas found on the state’s busy highways. Imagine my surprise to hear news of a (living) black bear who had managed to den up in one of the state’s busy highway median strips (and survive). I’ve been heavily immersed in the duality of wildlife and suburbanization recently - which is what perked my interest with such a tale of irony. It was also good to hear MA Fish & Wildlife helped stifle another wildlife roadkill statistic.
MassWildlife researchers are conducting an ongoing project which compares differences between suburban-dwelling bears and bears residing in rural areas of the state. One of those radio-collared bears included a female black bear that biologists discovered had nestled into a den site for the winter last November. That den site just happened to be right smack dab in between the east and west lanes of Route 2 in the town of Templeton.
The female bear, which weighed 206 pounds on moving day, had also given birth to two 8-pound cubs during her winter freeway hiatus. MassWildlife officials closed a portion of the highway between exits 19 and 20 this past Thursday to remove and translocate the bear family. With the assistance of Mass DOT, local law enforcement, and Massachusetts Environmental Police, the adult bear was sedated and transported with her two cubs to an undisclosed location - hopefully further away from the risk of a traffic-related mortality.
I’m not sure what would have transpired if the bears remained undiscovered. One has to speculate that the elongated stretch of forested highway median couldn’t possibly sustain a hungry bear clan hot off of winter hibernation. I suspect a traffic kill would be inevitable - and the adult bear would have surely become just another vehicle insurance claim.
The adult female bear bore a GPS tracking collar and was one of over 30 bears involved in a research project that tracks bear ranges from the Berkshires, Connecticut River Valley, and Worcester County areas.
March is typically prime time for hungry bears to emerge from winter dens and seek out much needed food. Much of the Northeast region saw a decline in natural food mast for bears last season, resulting in an influx in nuisance bear issues and abandoned cubs in both Massachusetts and neighboring New Hampshire.
Problems arise in urban areas when bears become accustomed to free and easy meals at backyard bird feeders, chicken coops, beehives, garbage cans, and dumpsters. Issues with bears are expected to continue in the region this season and both Massachusetts and New Hampshire officials have strongly advised citizens to avoid feeding bears.