High Peaks Black Bear Study
NYSDEC Region 5 Wildlife unit has been conducting research on black bears in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area to determine the home ranges, seasonal movements, habitat use, and behavior of black bears in the area, and to develop a nuisance black bear management plan. Wildlife staff use foot snares to capture bears and place radio collars on them. Wildlife staff, Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Officers also use firearms to mark bears with paintballs and haze nuisance bears with rubber buckshot or other non-lethal aversive conditioning tools.
Hikers and campers in the High Peaks Wilderness Area can assist in the DEC study by following these instructions:
- Provide information about sightings and encounters with black bears. The DEC is especially interested in sightings of marked bears. Look for colored ear tags or paint marks.
- Avoid areas marked by signs that read: "WARNING! AREA CLOSED - BLACK BEAR RESEARCH SITE - NYSDEC BUREAU OF WILDLIFE".
- Do not be alarmed by, or interfere with, DEC personnel with firearms; and obey the instructions of DEC staff.
Thank you for your cooperation in this important research. The results of the study will make your visit to the High Peaks Wilderness more enjoyable while ensuring a healthy, natural black bear population. Read on for more details of the research.
Negative bear/human interactions in the Marcy Dam-Lake Colden corridor in the High Peaks Wilderness Area have reached an unacceptable level in recent years. In the summer of 2003, there were 170 reported bear encounters with campers in which the bear either destroyed property (backpacks, tents, etc.), or was successful in obtaining food from campers.
DEC has taken a number of steps that will address this problem and lead to a significant reduction in the number of negative human/bear interactions in the High Peaks Wilderness and throughout the Adirondack and Catskill back country.
- Begun work on proposing regulation to require the use of bear resistant canisters in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness.
- Provided information on proper food storage and management practices in the back country.
- Stepped up systematic aversive conditioning of black bears that frequent back country camping areas.
- Commenced a two-year study of the black bears in Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area to determine home ranges, seasonal movements, habitat use, and behavior, and develop a nuisance black bear management plan.
- Estimate of the number, sex and age, and physical condition of bears using the Marcy Dam/Lake Colden area of the High Peaks Wilderness Area.
- Determine the home ranges, seasonal movements, and habitat use of collared bears in the High Peaks Wilderness Area.
- Determine the effectiveness of aversive conditioning techniques used on nuisance bears.
- Develop a management plan to reduce negative bear/human encounters.
Information on the nuisance bears in the High Peaks Wilderness Area is needed to adequately develop a comprehensive management plan with recommended actions that will be used to sustain an acceptable level of bear/human interactions.
- Reduce negative encounters between recreational users and bears to a level that is acceptable to the public and DEC. Data on bear responses to aversive conditioning can be applied via adaptive impact principles to reduce nuisance black bear problems in the High Peaks Wilderness Area.
- A management plan for nuisance bears in the High Peaks Wilderness Area to be used by the DEC units involved to provide an organized, consistent method for preventing, monitoring and responding to nuisance bears incidents. This plan will provide recommended actions to be taken by the regional Bureau of Wildlife and other DEC units, and may include regulation changes, educational programs, facility installation, and aversive conditioning methods.
- A data set that will be valuable as a reference for future work on nuisance bears for this department and other wildlife agencies. Some of our proposed methods use relatively new technologies that have not been thoroughly tested in the field. This project will add to the existing scientific data on the use of these technologies.
- A database on the black bear biology in the High Peaks Wilderness Area that can be compared with similar data from research done elsewhere in New York and other northeastern states.
DEC staff capture bears in areas which have had nuisance bear problems in the past, such as Marcy Dam and Lake Colden. Known nuisance and potential nuisance bears will be targeted for capture. The bears are trapped using foot snares placed in locations away from marked human trail systems. The type of foot snare used has been used extensively and successfully to safely live capture grizzly and black bears. Traps are monitored frequently to ensure that no bears experience unnecessary physical harm or stress. Signs are posted around the periphery of the trapping location to ensure the safety of humans hiking and camping in the area.
Captured bears are temporarily immobilized with drugs administered with a dart rifle and darts, or a pole syringe. Immobilized bears are monitored for vital signs (heart rate, body temperature, respiration) and cold water or ice is on hand to aid in reducing heat stress on bears.
Data will be obtained as time allows. Physical measurements include overall length, girth, pad measurements front and rear, tooth inspection, weight, and skull measurement. A pre-molar is pulled for aging purposes. Blood, tissue, hair, fecal matter, and ecto-parasites are collected and properly stored for DNA analysis, disease monitoring, and health indexing. All measures and equipment use are documented in a file on the individual bear, as are reports on the bear's post-marking health and activities.
Marking & Hazing
Every captured bear is ear tagged with numbered metal DEC tags, and plastic ear tags with color and number identification; and radio collars are attached to the bears. Bears are tattooed on the lip to aid in identification in the event a bear loses its tags and collar. Bears are also marked with paint-ball while they are immobilized.
Some bears are fitted with GPS radio collars, while others are fitted with VHF radio collars.
When bears recover from the immobilization drugs and are able to flee, they are hazed with rubber buckshot and/or bear scare darts. This is done to reinforce their aversion to humans.
Paint ball guns shooting paint especially formulated for marking animals are used to remotely mark other bears that are encountered in the area. Various paint colors are used to uniquely identify each bear.
The bear immobilization, handling, hazing and marking protocols was reviewed by an animal use committee prior to implementation for compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.
DEC staff are able track movement of the bears fitted with GPS collars by remotely download data on a regular basis. Bears with VHF radio collars are tracked using antenna and receiver carried by staff or mounted on an airplane.
Paint-marked bears, along with collared and tagged bears, can be identified by hikers and campers. Sighting reports will provide information on which individual bears are most often involved in attempts to get food from campers.
Trail cameras are used on bear trails to record individual bears using the trails. The data, along with sighting data, is used to develop an estimate of the number of bears using the survey area. The number of bears marked (collar, tags, and paint) allows DEC to use a mark-recapture method to obtain the population estimate.
How You Can Help
Hikers and campers in the High Peaks Wilderness can assist the DEC with this study.
- First, obey all signs and instructions from DEC staff, for your own safety, as well as the safety of the DEC staff and the bears.
- Second, use bear resistant canisters for storage of food, toiletries and trash as required by regulation and practice other proper food management techniques while camping.
- Third, report all bears sightings and any negative bear encounters, such as the loss of food or damage to camping equipment. If you see a bear please look for color ear tags, color paint markings elsewhere on its body or any other unique features that may help to identify individual bears. Also note the date, time and location of the sighting or encounter.
When reporting a bear sighting or negative encounter use the reporting forms available at the Lake Colden caretaker cabin, the trail register kiosk at Marcy Dam, the High Peaks Information Center and from DEC staff. If you are unable to obtain a form, reports may be mailed in using the reporting form link below. Sightings or encounters may also be phoned in to the Region 5 Wildlife Unit at 518/897-1291.
High Peaks Bear Sighting Form (35k pdf)
Thank you for your cooperation in this important research. The results of the study will make your visit to the High Peaks Wilderness more enjoyable while ensuring a healthy, natural black bear population.