The Highlights of My Week at Wildlife Leadership Academy

Evangeline T. profile photo

This week’s blog was written by Evangeline T., an Ursids alumni. Evangeline loves to be creative, especially in the kitchen! She would like to pursue a degree in baking and pastry arts. Evangeline is very extroverted and loves to hang out with friends and family. She adores animals and learning about them, so she attended WLA to learn about black bears.

How many people can say they stood ten feet away from a live, 315-pound black bear? Thanks to Wildlife Leadership Academy, I can proudly share that I have! At Wildlife Leadership Academy, they are dedicated to educating the next generation of habitat caretakers. WLA hosts five different camps, each one focused on a different animal. From Gobblers, Bucktails, and Bass, to Brookies and Ursids, each camp provides insight into the diversity of Pennsylvania wildlife. Additionally, WLA is dedicated to conservation, building leadership skills for the next generation, and nature.

I attended the Ursids camp in early August of 2023. Through hands-on experiences, WLA made learning fun. The three things I enjoyed the most were the processing of a live bear, the black bear necropsy, and the plants of the day.

Evangeline's team posing with the PA Ursids field school banner
Our team at WLA: we learned, laughed and enjoyed the week together!

Everyone held their breath as five people unloaded a 315-pound bear from the trap. I was shocked as the animal lay 10 feet away from me, breathing heavily. The Pennsylvania Game Commission began processing the bear. In order to control the bear population, the PA Game Commission often uses the capture and recapture method. We got to see them go through the process of tagging and recording information on a live, sedated bear. First, they tag their ear. The number on the tag is specific to that bear. Sometimes, the ear tag can be ripped off, so they also tattoo the lip of the bear with that number to ensure the bear will be identified once it’s recaptured. Next, they took hair and blood from the bear and sent it to the lab. The lab will test for any diseases or possible health issues. This is an important part of the process because the lab results will indicate any issues that could diminish our bear population. Finally, they took the tooth of the animal to determine the bear’s age. When the process was completed, the Commission released the bear back into the wild. Next season, they will set out traps again to recapture the bears. Overall, processing bears helps the Game Commission keep an eye on the population and any possible dangers to the health of black bears.

It’s hard to imagine the inside workings of a black bear till you’ve seen it with your own eyes. At WLA we had the opportunity to see the inside of a black bear during a necropsy. A necropsy is when a specialist dissects a bear to find out the cause of death. First, the biologist must identify the sex of the bear. They then make an incision under the leg and cut their way up the bear. The biologist searches for some indicator of wound trauma, that might give them clues of the cause of death. In our case, there was trauma from a bullet wound, so the biologist was searching for a bullet. Finally, the biologist will take samples to search for diseases. The most common disease among bears is mange. It’s spread by mange mite and kills many black bears in Pennsylvania each year. After viewing the intricate workings of a black bear, it is much easier to understand how they function.

Botany instructor holding up a plant for students to view
Our amazing botanists, teaching us on a nature walk.

One of the most crucial aspects in regard to learning about black bears is their diet and habitat. During the plant of the day, botanists taught us about plants and trees that are important to black bears. For example, Eastern Hemlock and White Pine trees provide excellent cover for black bears because they are evergreen. They provide year-round cover for our Pennsylvania black bears. In addition, we learned about Shagbark Hickory and White Oak trees. These trees drop hickory nuts and acorns which provide hard mast food for bears. Lastly, the botanists taught us about identifying trees these different trees in the wild. One method we learned about is figuring out the leaf arrangement of a tree. To do this, you follow the leaf down to its petiole and see the tiny bud connected to it. If there is only one bud, it’s an alternate arrangement. If two buds are facing each other, it’s an opposite arrangement. If there are more than two, it’s a whorled. A key aspect of learning about black bears is their habitat.

WLA is doing a marvelous job of educating the next generation about wildlife. It was an important experience where I learned a lot, while simultaneously having a blast. I am thankful I got to learn about the processing of a bear, a black bear necropsy, the black bear’s habitat, and so much more. I would highly recommend Wildlife Leadership Academy to anyone!

The photos used in this blog belong to the Academy.