Wednesday, November 3, 2010

FLCC asks citizens for help with bear research

Seen anything like this? FLCC researchers are looking for bear scratch marks on trees.
Two FLCC instructors and 12 students have embarked on a research project to study behaviors of black bears for which there is little documentation to date – and they’re asking the general public for help.

Bears have been known to bite and scratch trees, but Professor John Van Niel and conservation technician Sasha MacKenzie learned about a little-known bear behavior while assisting two researchers from Walnut Hill Tracking and Nature Center in central Massachusetts in July. They encountered tracks that bears appear to have deliberately retread to make them deeper.

Van Niel had his students contact bear experts throughout North America and comb through existing texts on black bears, but they found very little research about these deeply-imprinted tracks. They want to find out if black bears in western New York make these unique trails and if there could be a relationship between the trails and any bite or scratch marks on nearby trees.

As hunting seasons fill the woods throughout western New York, Van Niel, MacKenzie and the students hope local residents will find and share any evidence of deeply imprinted black bear tracks and bite and scratch marks on trees.

Here's what to look for:
Black bear bite
mark on a tree
• The bite marks, made by the bears’ large canine teeth, will be at or above eye level and look like a ragged gash in the trunk with wood fibers pulled towards the center from either side. Scratch marks will often show the individual claw marks and are often found on the same trees as the bite marks.

• Trails will consist of footprints in the soil (not snow) about 10- by 5-inches and spaced about two feet from each other. These trails differ from the footprints normally left by a bear in that they are impressed deeply in the ground and give the impression of repeated use rather than the tracks left by a single passing of a bear.

Residents are encouraged to send clear, closeup photos of the markings or trails along with their name, home address, telephone numbers, e-mail address and a detailed description of where the photo was taken to Van Niel at

Deeply imprinted bear tracks
As part of the project, Van Niel will take his students to the Walnut Hill Tracking and Nature Center in Massachusetts using funding from a National Science Foundation grant FLCC has received for undergraduate research.

Students in the class are Bethany Allen of Canandaigua, Katie Boye of Rochester, Brian Cole of Fairport, Joel DeVolder of  Newark, Alyssa Johnson of Marion, Rebecca Linkiewicz of New Hartford, Erin Lord of Shortsville, Gina Ruocco of Canandaigua, Jon Vimislik of Canandaigua, Patricia Wakefield of West Henrietta, Michele Watkins of Hermon, and Sara York of Canandaigua.

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