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      Fostering orphan cubs

      DNR officials estimate there are about 15,000 black bears across the U.P. Almost every year, a number of sows, which are adult females, die of natural causes or accidents, and if they have cubs, the little ones are left to fend for themselves.

      But DNR officials are working to make sure those cubs are given a second chance. DNR Wildlife Biologist, Doug Wagner, checked up on a recently collared sow, hibernating since October in Menominee County last Thursday.

      Officials use the collars to track the sow and about 10 others across the state. The sow is healthy and close to 200 pounds.

      The entire process is designed to keep a core group of females available to take on orphan cubs. Some years, officials find as many as a half dozen orphans.

      "We've had really good luck with that," explained DNR Wildlife Technician, Monica Joseph. "It depends on when you get the cubs, like when they're in the den, it's easier than when they're out and moving, but we've done both and had success with that."

      And this year, the sow has given birth to two healthy cubs.

      "Her having two cubs is an advantage because that gives us a sow to foster a cub with or two cubs with if we should need to this summer," Joseph said.

      Both cubs are boys, and this was their first time out of their den. Even while their mom is hibernating, most cubs aren't afraid to explore the world around them.

      "As spring comes here and you get to a den site, when the sow is still in there, you'll see them coming out, coming out around the edge," Wagner explained. "You'll see the cubs climbing around; like little kids, they like to go out and explore."

      The cubs are about seven weeks old and will stay with their mother for two winters, and the following May when they're about one and a half years old, they'll take on the world on their own.

      The two cubs are lucky enough to get that special help from mom to grow into adulthood. Through the collaring program, the DNR hopes orphaned cubs will get that opportunity as well. Who knows? Maybe by next winter, this family may have a new addition.