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From Backyards to Backwoods: Live bear birth is exciting view of nature

Our daughter is holding a bear cub while researchers attach a new radio collar to its mother. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

Did you ever just think about sleeping away the winter? What would it be like right now to be curled up in a hole in the ground with no thoughts about eating, going to work, watching television, reading a favorite book, or playing video games?

Well, if it makes you curious, you can check in on Lily, the female black bear that has made national news lately. Dr. Lynn Rogers, of the North American Bear Center and producer Doug Hajicek have placed a video camera inside Lily's den to give a close-up look at hibernation. She is three years old and suspected to be pregnant. If that's the case, she will give birth this month and it can be seen right on your computer screen. To check it out, log on to

Last winter we did a similar thing in Itasca State Park. Connie and Sandra, the park naturalists, asked for assistance in gathering some footage of hibernation so they could use it on a podcast for the park. An active den was located and, along with Connie, Sandra, and wildlife technicians from our local DNR office, Joe Courneya and I hiked out to the site. None of us were sure as to what we would find. Naturally we were hoping to find a female with newborn cubs, but any bear would do.

To keep the noise level and disturbance to a minimum, most of the group stayed back, while a camera attached to a pole was carefully inserted into the den opening. As we looked at the viewing monitor and began recording, we could see not one bear, but three. In this small natural cavity under an uprooted tree, three yearling black bears had settled in for their winter's sleep.

Our presence went un-noticed except for the time that one of the yearlings lifted its head and stuck its nose right up to the camera. Then, deciding the lens was not an enemy or anything to eat, the bear just snuggled back into the warmth provided by its roommates.

Bears and hibernation fascinate me. As a fifth grade teacher I was able to take students to black bear dens on four separate occasions. Instead of reading about what bear researchers do, we accompanied them and got to watch as they carefully removed the adult from the den - after first tranquilizing her.

Then, as they replaced her radio collar, took blood samples, weighed her, and gave her a physical checkup, they explained what they were doing and the students got to ask questions. We always went on cub bearing years so the kids could hold the new cubs while the researchers conducted their work.

When all the data was collected, the adult and cubs were tucked back into their den. It was always an amazing learning experience and my only regret was that we couldn't find a way to share it with the entire fifth grade class.

Maybe watching Lily on-line is an acceptable alternative.

Steve Maanum can be reached at