BANGOR – Officials say Maine’s 36-year-old black bear study program has paid dividends.

Randy Cross, a wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said that in 1980 the state suspended bear hunting because officials weren’t sure if hunters were killing too many bears.

Now, 30 years later, the bear population is thriving at about 23,000 and a management plan says hunters are shooting fewer bears each year than the department would like.

In the summer, crews focus on finding new bears that will serve as future research subjects. They trap the bears and sedate them for about an hour. Crews put radio collars on female bears and monitor them throughout their lives. Cross said males receive lip tattoos and ear tags.

The Bangor Daily News reported one study is conducted in northern Maine, west of Ashland. Another is in Bradford. The Down East study area centers on an area just northeast of Beddington.

In the winter, research crews track down the radio-collared females and visit them in their dens. Cubs are enlisted and the health of the mother and her young are checked.

Cross said researchers have put collars on 108 females.

Cross said the Down East study area covers about 300 square miles. The crew has set up 98 snares at 68 sites and are pre-baiting several other potential trap sites.

Crews tend the traps each day, weigh the bears, fit collars if needed, check temperature and respiration, make some measurements, and collect a hair sample for genetic comparison and a tooth for aging.