State wildlife biologists have lost track of an orphaned bear cub that was returned to the wilds of eastern San Luis Obispo County earlier this year.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, state Department of Fish and Game biologist Bob Stafford found an ear tag that contained a radio transmitter lying on the ground a quarter of a mile away from where the 45-pound black bear cub had been released on the Chimineas Ranch on March 29.
Stafford searched the area and could not find the bears carcass, so he thinks the cub is still alive. The tag must have been torn off the bears ear as it moved through heavy brush in the area.
The Department of Fish and Game operates a series of camera traps on the Chimineas Ranch. Stafford is hoping the bear cub will appear in a photograph from one of the cameras, confirming that it is still alive.
Stafford was able to locate the cub twice before the transmitter fell off. In both cases, the bear was within a half a mile of its release location, a rock outcropping near a meadow.
Stafford had hoped to track the movements of the bear for the 384-day life of the transmitter. Data from the transmitter would have helped biologists better understand how bears fit into the ecology of the 33,000-acre state wildlife refuge where the bear was released.
Now, the department is concentrating on getting ready to conduct a population survey of black bears in the county. Starting this fall or spring, the department will install 100 hair-snare stations throughout bear habitat in the county.
The stations will consist of bait stations surrounded by barbed-wire fencing, designed not to cause injury. Bears that visit the bait stations will leave hair samples on the barbed wire.
DNA analysis of the hair samples will allow biologists to identify individual animals. The resulting inventory of bears in the county will allow biologists to estimate the size and distribution of the bear population.