Credit: Credit: Courtesy of Bonnie Collins

There can be a fine line between survival and death during the winter for black bears in Maine.

For those that can’t find enough food during the summer and fall to build up fat stores, it can mean a long winter spent out of the den, searching for food.

That was the case for an undersized, injured bear recently discovered wandering near homes in Holden. Bonnie Collins shared the story on Facebook after she and family members helped facilitate a rescue.

“That’s the ultimate goal is to help maintain the wildlife population and keep them healthy,” Collins said.

On Feb. 28 the bear, later determined to be a 2-year-old female, appeared on a home security camera. It can be seen on the attached video, peering into the door of a home.

Collins said the resident, her neighbor, was alerted to the bear’s presence by a cell phone notification. He went out and found the bear under his steps. Game wardens suggested he shoo the animal away.

The next day, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists arrived and tracked the bear. It was discovered on Collins’ adjacent property, where it was captured.

“She did not try to run from them. She actually came toward them, which was unusual,” Collins said of what the biologists encountered.

Jennifer Vashon, a state black bear and Canada lynx biologist, said the bear was malnourished and likely did not den this winter because of insufficient fat reserves.

“Unfortunately, when bears are in such poor nutritional condition, they often make poor choices as she did by choosing to forage on a porcupine, which further compromised her condition with quills in her mouth, nose, throat and front paw,” Vashon said.

The bear’s weight was estimated at 45 pounds, considerably less than the 60-80 pounds a 2-year-old should weigh. Vashon explained that in years when natural foods — mostly nuts and fruit crops such as beech nuts, acorns, raspberries and cherries — are not abundant, bears are leaner.

(Courtesy of Bonnie Collins)

Young bears, most often yearlings, whose very existence depends on putting all of their resources into getting fat to survive the winter, can be further compromised. Sometimes, they continue to forage.

At age 2, bears already live independently and den alone. Females usually don’t produce their first litter of cubs until between ages 4 and 6.

Vashon said reports of bears showing up near homes in the winter is a telltale sign the animal is in bad shape.

“Our typical response to these calls is to collect information, assess, and develop the appropriate response based on the situation and how close we are to spring green-up,” Vashon said.

The bear in Holden was chemically immobilized in order to assess its condition and biologists removed the porcupine quills. Despite its low weight and injuries, the animal was nonetheless deemed to have a fighting chance.

“Based on her behavior before she was immobilized and sedated, and her body condition once we had her in hand, we determined that although in poor condition, she could likely make it through the rest of the winter,” Vashon said.

The bear also was fitted with a GPS collar that will enable biologists to track its movements.

Collins, thrilled to be able to help, offered to use her side-by-side utility vehicle to transport the crew to quickly and safely remove the bear from the woods. The biologists transported the animal to a new den, where it was provided with a beaver carcass and left to again fend for itself.

Collins, who stressed that most interactions with wildlife on their property are unintentional, was pleased how this scenario played out.

“Clearly this bear needed something from us,” she said. “It was a really great story, a great outcome, and I’m so glad that I was privileged to be part of that.

“Hopefully, she’ll go on to be a healthy bear and have cubs of her own,” Collins said.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...