News release: Hunters asked not to shoot ear-tagged, radio-collared research bears

August 21, 2023

Collared bears provide important management data 

The Minnesota bear hunting season opens Friday, Sept. 1, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is once again asking hunters to avoid shooting marked research bears. These bears are marked with distinctively large, colorful ear tags and wear radio collars.

Researchers with the Minnesota DNR are monitoring 35 radio-collared black bears across the state, especially in bear hunting zones 27, 45, and parts of the no-quota zone. Most of the radio-collared bears live in or near the Chippewa National Forest, Camp Ripley Military Reserve, the Pillsbury State Forest, and the Brainerd/Baxter area. However, the bears also range widely from these sites. 

“We are asking hunters to avoid shooting these valuable research bears,” said Andy Tri, Minnesota DNR bear research scientist. “These collared bears give us much of the data we use in bear management and are most valuable to us when they are collared for multiple years. Thank you to hunters who have opted to not take collared bears in past years and hunters who will choose to not harvest collared bears this season.”

A key to the research is looking at year-to-year changes in natural food supplies and how those changes affect individual bears in terms of their habitat use, physical condition, denning, reproduction and interactions with people. This research is not designed to evaluate mortality from hunting. Trapping new bears every year to replace the ones killed cannot substitute for long-term data on individual bears.

All the collars the Minnesota DNR uses in this research have GPS units. The GPS coordinates are either uploaded to a satellite or stored in the collar and downloaded by Minnesota DNR researchers when they visit the bears in their dens. Each bear provides several thousand data points per year.

The bear’s coat often hides the collar, especially in the fall, and most of the collars are black. But all collared bears have large (3 x 2 inch), colorful ear tags. The tags should be plainly visible on trail cam photos or when a bear is at a bait. Example photos of collared bears with ear tags and a summary of pertinent research findings can be found online under the link “Importance of Radio-collared Bears” on the Minnesota DNR bear management page.

Minnesota DNR officials recognize hunters might not be able to see a radio collar or ear tags in some situations. For this reason, taking a bear with a radio collar is legal; however, pausing briefly to get a clear view of the bear’s head would reveal whether it has large ear tags, which indicates that it is collared. 

Most collared bears have a small, implanted heart monitor under the skin on the left side of the chest. It looks like a small, silver capsule that is approximately the width of a paper clip. This contains valuable information stored in memory. Hunters who take a collared bear and find this device while skinning the bear are asked to submit it with the collar.

Hunters may see bears with very small ear tags (1 x 1/4 inch). These bears are not collared and may be part of other ongoing research projects. It is legal to take a bear with small ear tags. 

The Minnesota DNR asks any hunters who do shoot a collared or ear-tagged bear to call the Minnesota DNR Wildlife Research Office in Grand Rapids at 218-328-8879 or 218-328-8874 to report it and coordinate the pickup or drop off of the collar and heart monitor, if applicable.

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