Experience bears repeating
My second career (I was an elementary school teacher for 33 years) as a nature and travel writer-photographer will never place me in a higher tax bracket, but it has afforded me a number of atypical encounters that I would not have experienced if I did not have press credentials.
One example happened earlier this month when I joined Northampton County Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Brad Kreider and Deputy Tom Harrington, while they processed a nuisance black bear.
According to Kreider, this particular male bear was not considered a nuisance bear, but it was hanging out in a rather populated area in Plainfield Township, Northampton County, where the potential for encounters with children and other residents was highly possible and could lead to problems.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates the Keystone State black bear population to be more than 18,000. These numbers, along with the rapid development of the suburbs, places a continual demand on wildlife officers to relocate nuisance bears.
Kreider conducted a black bear program at the Stockertown Rod and Gun Club several years ago. I remember him saying, "I've had a black bear report or complaint from every municipality and township in Northampton County." After the meeting, I asked for permission to tag along sometime when he captured and processed a black bear.
I witnessed the sixth bear processed by Kreider this year. The bear was trapped with a culvert trap. The trap is baited with a concoction of several mouth-watering treats most bears can't resist. The mobile traps are used to move bears from conflict areas to wilderness locations.
Trapped bears are processed before they are given a free ride to a new location. Captured bears are tranquilized to determine weight, health and age.
Once the drugs take hold, the bear is removed from the trap. Its weight is determined in two ways: with a scale and measuring the bear's chest in inches and comparing it to a chart that estimates the bear's weight.
If the bear has not been previously trapped and tagged, both ears are tagged using numbered metal ear tags. These allow game commission officers to monitor the bear if is captured again, becomes a road casualty or is harvested during black bear hunting seasons. A small molar is removed and sent to a lab to determine the bear's age.
The bear that I saw processed had not previously been tagged. I was surprised when Kreider asked me if I was interested in a hands-on experience. What did that mean, I wondered?
Well, hands-on was exactly what it sounded like. I could tag the bear and remove the molar. I, of course, said yes.
The bear's chest measurement indicated that its estimated weight was 350 pounds.
Kreider recorded the two ear tag numbers and I attached the tags to the bear's ears. Then, I removed the bear's molar.
When the processing was completed, the bear was loaded back into the culvert trap for transport to its new surroundings. Lifting and loading a limp sedated 350-pound bear was no easy task. Luckily, I was taking photos.
After the bear was placed safely back in the trap it was time to go for a ride. By the time we traveled 80 miles to State Game Lands 211 in Lebanon County, the bear was awake and definitely ready for its exodus from the trap.
I prepared to take photos of the bear escaping from the trap. I stood about 10 feet away in a diagonal position at the back left of the culvert trap. There was an old grass covered road to the right that continued up a slight slope. "The bear should follow the road," Kreider explained.
I asked Harrington if I was in a safe place. "About 90 percent of the time there are no problems when the trap door is opened and the bear is released," he said.
I hoped he was joking.
"But don't forget that you pulled out its tooth about two hours ago," he added with a big grin.
When the trap door opened, the bear flew from the trap and continued rushing along the old road as fast as his four legs could carry 350 pounds.
It was obvious the bear had no idea and could not have cared less that I was standing 10 feet away, taking as many photos as possible while he raced away and disappeared over the hill.
Processing a nuisance black bear proved an enjoyable and educational day that I have added to my list of unusual outdoor experiences.
That's the way I see it!
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