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TRACKING BLACK BEARS: Dr. Thea Kristensen of Amherst College to deliver a lecture on Friday, June 14, at Old Town Hall

Get an inside look at the MassBears and MassMammals research projects with Dr. Thea Kristensen of Amherst College.

West Stockbridge — By about 1850, European settlers had killed all of the wolves in Massachusetts, along with most of the commonwealth’s trees, black bears, rattlesnakes, and many other species. In some cases, government-sponsored eradication efforts accelerated the pace of destruction. The Berkshire hills provided refuge to survivors of the onslaught. Today, few rattlesnakes remain in Massachusetts, but the black bear population is growing, and Thea Kristensen will tell you all about it on Friday, June 14, at the West Stockbridge Old Town Hall.

Dr. Thea V. Kristensen will give a talk about bears and other Massachusetts mammals on June 14, 7 p.m., at Old Town Hall, 9 Main St, West Stockbridge. Photo courtesy of Kristensen.

Thea Kristensen is laboratory coordinator in the biology department of Amherst College. She earned her Ph.D. in biology from the University of Arkansas, and she works on the MassMammals and MassBears projects. Amherst College collaborates with MassMammals Watch, a Citizen/Community Science project run by volunteers across the state who contribute information from the field to help track mammal populations throughout Massachusetts. Dr. Kristensen will talk not only about the population size and distribution of black bears but also about several other animals that MassMammals Watch is studying.

MassBears maintains an interactive bear sightings map that reflects project data going back to 2019. The map has a zoom capability that allows for close scrutiny of specific locations, and each year’s data appears on its own color-coded layer that you can view separately from other years. (Viewing the separate layers in chronological order is enlightening.) There is a similar map, also covering the years 2019 to 2024, pertaining to several other Massachusetts mammals. Both maps allow you to drill down into individual sighting records by clicking on an icon, and you can find sightings at specific locations using the search bar in the top right. Everything you see on these maps represents sighting data collected by volunteers.

Black bear range. Image courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Ursus americanus is a timid animal that, during the Pleistocene epoch, developed the ability to climb trees so it could escape from the much larger short-faced bear, a one-ton-plus brute that liked to eat black bears. Although the short-faced bear vanished from North America about 10,000 years ago, black bears are still terrified of them, because black bears still have the instincts of a prey animal. That is why it is so easy for almost anyone to chase away a black bear.

Click here to see an interactive version of this map.

If you have the good fortune of encountering a black bear in the wild, the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife recommends you make a lot of noise and stand tall. They don’t say anything about gratitude, but that is exactly what you should feel any time you get a glimpse of one of these magnificent creatures.

Hear Dr. Thea Kristensen of Amherst College talk about bears and other Massachusetts mammals on June 14, 7 p.m., at Old Town Hall, 9 Main St, West Stockbridge. Learn about the origins of these projects, their current research direction, and how you can get involved. To attend this lecture, your RSVP is required here.


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