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Bear Cub Tagging

The PA Game Commission tags a few fuzzy friends


by Heather Mee - April 3, 2015

If you live in Tioga County, you have probably seen, heard stories or come into contact with our neighbors of the FUZZY and BLACK variety. Tioga county has a high population of the PA Black bear. It’s hard to believe that just 25 years prior, a bear was a rare sight in the PA woods, but thanks to the research and work of the PA Game Commission (PGC) and it’s Biologists, PA now boasts a healthy bear population.

The PGC continues to monitor the bear population and calculate numbers to keep them in a healthy balance. To do this, data needs to be continually collected. There are several methods of data collection, including harvest data, roadkill data and bear capture. By crunching the information from these sources, the PGC acquires an accurate perspective on population, and is also able to set the coming year’s harvest requirements.


As the wife of a PGC Officer, my profession as a photographer sometimes comes in handy to my husband. I am able to provide him with photos that he finds useful in creating presentations to help educate the public. It’s also not-so-ironic that we have a daughter who will be pursuing a career in Wildlife Biology and possibly becoming a future Wildlife Vet. As a family, we could probably write a book on the unusual and interesting encounters with wildlife, but we all agree that this week’s bear cub tagging was among one of the coolest we have had.

Please keep in mind, there were three PGC Wildlife Conservation officers (WCO’s) with us – and they have much experience in bear handling and habits – so PLEASE do not try this yourself! Not only is it illegal – it is potentially very dangerous.

The adventure began when a private land owner contacted the PGC about a bear den with cubs on his property in his old, overgrown apple orchard. PGC officers in Tioga County conferred and decided this was a great opportunity to collect data on family units – mother and little cubs. These cubs would have been born the second week in January, as that is when all cubs in PA are typically born.


After a steep hike, we spotted mama bear off in the distance, wandering about, as if she’s just awakened from a long winter’s nap. As my husband tried to approach her to dart her with a tranquilizer, she took off into the thick sugar bush. Walking just a bit further, the den and two cubs were easily spotted. It was under a simple multiflora rose bush and consisted of a shallow depression lined with grasses and leaves. This “nest” was not at all what I thought of as a bear den! Apparently this is not uncommon for bears in PA to have a “ground nest” as a den site.

After discussing the options, the officers decided to put one officer on guard to dart mama if she returned, and the other two officers would collect data on the cubs. This scenario was less than ideal, but when it comes to Wildlife Conservation, these officers have learned to “improvise, adapt and overcome”. Rarely do things go according to plan. That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous that mama could come barreling out of the thicket at any time!


My husband pulled cub #1 out of the den and handed it over to my daughter to hold and keep warm. He then had her place the cub into a PGC shopping bag to weigh the little bruin. It was obviously a male, and it was quite muscular and weighed in at 5lb 8oz! Officer Brussese, the new WCO in Tioga County, was handed cub #2 and then placed it in the bag to be weighed. This little girl was daintier than her brother but still weighed in at 5lb! As long as they were being held closely, they didn’t make a sound!

Next came the ear tags, not much different than a calf tag used in the dairy industry. These tags can potentially offer the PGC a wealth of information down the road, because a bear can now be traced in how far he/she disperses and how much they have grown over a set period of time.


The ear piercings of the little fuzzballs was met with much less enthusiasm! Their squealing could have potentially angered Mama enough to come to rescue her babies! But she stayed out of sight – much to our surprise!

The cubs were placed back into their nest, and immediately curled up next to each other, looking exhausted from all of the excitement. They would be checked on the next day to ensure Mama returned to them, which she did- as any good Mama would!


This is uncommon for officers to routinely to go into den sites. The Bear Biologists typically do this in a study area. It was a unique opportunity for the Tioga PGC Conservation Officers to collect local cub data….. and collect a few great photos for educational purposes as well!



Writing: Heather Mee


Produced by Vogt Media

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