Black bear boom means more teeth to sort

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Patrick Whit­tle

Caro- BRIDGTON, MAINE — lyn Nistler is at the fore­front of a boom in a re­source that plays a key role in the man­age­ment of Amer­i­can wild- life: bear teeth.

Nistler, owner of a Mon­tana lab, and others are sort­ing through a wind­fall of teeth taken from Amer­i­can black bears, which use their pow­er­ful jaws to crush hazel­nuts and chew salmon flesh. The grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of the bears in the United States has sci­en­tists sort­ing through thou­sands more teeth, which are im­por­tant to get a han- dle on the health of Amer­ica’s bru­ins.

“Pop­u­la­tions are grow­ing,” she said. “We’ve in­creased fa­cil­i­ties to ac­com­mo­date so turn­around time isn’t longer.”

States use bear teeth for re­search such as how old the an­i­mals were at the time they died, which can be an in­di­ca­tor of how healthy bear popu- la­tions are. The teeth are most of­ten har­vested from bears

killed by big game hunters, who seek the burly an­i­mals for sport all over the coun- try. Some are also taken from road­kill an­i­mals.

Nistler owns Matson’s Labo- ra­tory in Man­hat­tan, Mon­tana, which pro­cesses the most teeth of any lab in Amer­ica. The lab con­tracts with state wildlife de­part­ments and pro­cessed nearly 260,000 black bear teeth from 2009 to 2016, up from less than 220,000 from 2001 to 2008, ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided by Nistler.

A grow­ing bear pop­u­la­tion has cre­ated more hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, which leads in turn to more bear teeth for re­searchers, Nistler said.

In­deed, the tooth boom comes as the black bear pop- ula­tion is ex­pand­ing in many states, es­pe­cially in East Coast states like Maine, where the pop­u­la­tion has grown from 30,000 in 2010 to more than 35,000 now ac­cord­ing to state wildlife man­agers. Bear pop­u­la­tions are also grow­ing in Mas­sachusetts, New Jersey and else­where. Black bears live in 41 states.

The na­tion­wide pop­u­la­tion was more than 400,000 in 2008, which is most likely dou­ble the pop­u­la­tion in 1900, and it has ex­panded even more in the last nine years, said Lynn Rogers, a bear ex­pert with the North Amer­i­can Bear Cen­ter in Ely, Min­nesota.

Bear p op u lat ions have in­creased as peo­ple have learned to live around the an­i­mals, which are mostly skit­tish around hu­mans, Rogers said.

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