DNR Seeks Help From Bear Hunters

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Michigan Department of Natural Resources researchers conducting a study to evaluate a new method for estimating the size of the black bear population in the northern Lower Peninsula are asking for assistance from successful bear hunters this fall.

The new method involves collecting hair and tissue samples from bears harvested during the fall hunting seasons. These samples will be compared to hair samples collected by the researchers earlier this year and will allow the DNR to estimate the total number of bears in that region of the state. This technique has been successful for estimating the size of grizzly bear populations in western North America. Researchers are using the bear's own genetic "fingerprint" to identify individual bears.

The same DNA-based techniques that can be used in humans to identify crime suspects can be used to uniquely identify bears. To determine the genetic fingerprint of a bear, all scientists need is a small amount of tissue or hair.

The project is a cooperative effort between the DNR Wildlife Division, the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Little River and Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Tribes. The Safari Club International -- Michigan Involvement Committee and the Michigan Bear Hunters Association also made financial contributions to this project.

The DNR asks every successful bear hunter to obtain a small piece of muscle tissue and a small hair sample when they take their harvested bear to be sealed. Researchers are attempting to collect samples from every bear harvested in the NLP and from bears sealed at state operated bear check stations in the Upper Peninsula (UP).

"The tissue can be any bit of muscle that is still fairly fresh and clean," said DNR biologist Dwayne Etter. "In fact, it only needs to be about as big as the very end of your little finger. The hair sample just needs to be a couple of strands of hair. Neither collecting a sample of tissue nor hair will interfere with any potential taxidermy work."

Personnel at bear check station will have all of the instructions and equipment needed to collect the muscle tissue and hair. This group effort among hunters, researchers, and funding agencies will improve the DNR?s ability to estimate the size of the black bear population in the NLP.