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Cub love: Eischens family gets close look at bear research near Two Inlets

Roxann Eischens and grandson Tyler hold four cubs with the sedated mother black bear on land north of Park Rapids in the Two Inlets area. (Submitted photo)

For the second time in as many years Roxann Eischens and her family got an up close and personal look at a black bear and her cubs.

Minnesota DNR bear biologists Dave Garshelis and Andrew Tri conducted their annual den visit for a 12-year-old female bear that lives near the Eischens family in the Two Inlets area. Just like last year, Roxann and her grandchildren were invited to take part in the study and they had fun with the unique opportunity to hold the bear cubs.

"Two years in a row we got to witness this. It's very exciting," Roxann said. "The DNR told us the bear was back and invited us out there. We got to follow with them and watch them do their jobs. It's a great learning experience, and each year we've learned new things."

Last year, Roxann's brother-in-law was cutting wood in late January when he discovered a den inside a wooded area on their property. The mother and two cubs were in the den. Roxann contacted the DNR, which made arrangements with researchers from the University of Minnesota who are studying Minnesota black bears.

The mother was sedated and fitted with a radio collar and implanted a heart monitor for researchers to collect data.

The bear returned to the area this year and was discovered in a den west of last year's location, about a mile into the state forest, and this year she had four cubs.

On Feb. 23 of this year, the DNR and bear biologists were back in the Two Inlets area to visit the bear and her cubs. That's when Roxann and her family again had the chance to hold the fluffy, baby bears.

The DNR located the bear and her cubs a couple weeks ago by tracking the radio collar and invited Roxann and her family to the field study. The DNR also invited students and staff from a biology class at Bemidji High School to learn more about bear ecology and wildlife management.

Biologist Andrew Tri said the mother lost her two cubs from last year. Based on trail camera photographs the sow lost her first cub before she left the den. This year, she had a litter of four cubs, which is larger than the statewide average of 2.6, according to Tri.

"Because she had cubs this year, that means the cub died prior to breeding season in 2016," he added. "It isn't known what happened to the cubs, but total loss of a litter is rare."

Tri and Garshelis removed the radio collar and heart implants from the sow after taking body measurements, blood and hair samples, and replaced the ear tags with smaller ones for monitoring.

The biologists have finished monitoring her for their northwestern Minnesota study, but she will still contribute data to science and management, Tri said. The Visible Heart Lab (www.vhlab.umn.edu) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities will analyze the heart data for their research project.

For Roxann, to have the bear and her cubs return to the area and the DNR invite her along to get a close look at the project is special, particularly two years in a row.

"It's kind of sad to know that the two cubs from last year didn't make it," she said. "It was awesome last year and quadruple the excitement this year. There were four cubs and we weren't expecting any."

The cubs were two male and two female, and weighed 3 to 5 pounds with long claws.

The experience again was pretty special for the Eischens family, and a big enough deal where grandchildren Madison and Tyler were allowed to skip school for the day.

"Tyler said something like, 'This means so much to me Grandma.' It was a pretty neat experience for everyone again," Roxann said.

They were able to hold the four cubs and pose for pictures near the sedated mother bear, the cubs grunting like little piggies, Roxann described.

Once the bear and her cubs leave the den this spring they'll start looking for food and most likely stay close to the den area, generally moving in an 8-square-mile area. The bears first feed on things, such as ants, this spring before the berry season and once things green up, they'll eat young, tender plants and grasses.

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