What to do if you encounter abandoned bear cubs, or an open den

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MAINE- Bears should be denned this time of year, under a good blanket of snow, according to Shawn Haskell, wildlife biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“Our bears up here should be well covered up and tucked away,” he said.

Bears give birth on a specific cycle, skipping a year between offspring.

“The females birth every other year, and the ones who were birthed this year would have been birthed about a month ago - three or four weeks ago,” said Haskell. “So the females either have cubs that are three or four weeks old, and they're just little tiny, almost hairless, their eyes are still closed, or they're yearlings, you know, and they're 40 or 50 pounds that were born a year ago.”

Bear statistics are gathered each winter by a team of dedicated individuals.

Haskell said, “We've had a bear project going for about 40 years, so we've got a crew of three or four people every year who visit bear dens, and these are people who know about denning bears as much as anybody in the world, probably.”

Cubs were recently discovered in Lee when a logging operation spooked the mother. The cubs were moved to a den with another sow and her young. Haskell says cases like that are rare but can be life-threatening to the cubs - especially newborns. Last year in Presque Isle, cubs were found and placed in another den with their mother.

“In some situations, we may have to relocate cubs, and we can do that,” said Haskell. “We have the knowledge because we have this bear crew and this bear study going on. They know what sow should be having cubs this year, and they know what sows had cubs last year.”

Haskell added that typically mother bears will take in cubs that aren't their own. He offers tips on what to do if you come upon an open den.

“ If the young look comfortable and they're tucked away, you know, in a very secured, sheltered area, I would give them 24 hours,” he said. “If they're exposed to the cold very much, then it's probably better just to call us and we can make that call.”