April O'Neil / news@WHMI.com

Those who hunt, live, or vacation in northern Michigan are asked to keep an eye out for black bears as part of an ongoing study of the species.

If you encounter a den or see an actual black bear during your travels up north, the DNR says to contact them as part of a study into the species' hibernation habits.

“Finding winter den locations is an important component to managing black bear populations, and we need hunter, trapper and landowner assistance to add new den sites to the program in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula,” said Mark Boersen, wildlife biologist at the DNR Roscommon Customer Service Center. “Currently, we are monitoring six bears from the ground and aircraft using radio tracking equipment.”

Bears typically enter dens in November and December. Dens may look like brush piles covered in snow or excavated holes in the ground, both having an icy opening to vent fresh air. While it is illegal to disturb a den, the DNR says if you believe you have found one to keep a safe distance and report it.

The location, using GPS coordinates, can be forwarded to DNR staffers Cody Norton of the Upper Peninsula at NortonC3@Michigan.gov or Mark Boersen of the northlern lower peninsula at BoersenM@Michigan.gov.

After receiving a report of a denned bear, DNR biologists can determine if the animal is a good candidate for joining their ongoing observation program. A bear selected for the program will be sedated and fitted with a collar and ear tags. Biologists will collect information from the bear including the sex, weight, body measurements and reproductive history, and will remove a small, nonfunctional tooth to acquire a DNA sample and determine the bear’s age. See a short video of this bear examination process.

Upon completion of the procedure, biologists will carefully return the bear to its den, where it will remain throughout the winter months.

As of 2021, the DNR estimates there are to be fewer than 13,000 black bears living in the state. Regulated hunting of black bears takes place in September and October in parts of the Lower and Upper Peninsulas. However, it is illegal to kill cubs or a mother travelling with her cubs.

To learn more about bear management in Michigan, visit the provided link.