Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists gather information on a black bear cub during their annual winter study. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife photo

LEWISTON — If you’ve ever wanted to hold a bear cub — and, really, who hasn’t — here’s your chance.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is offering one contest winner and a friend the opportunity to follow department biologists as they visit the winter den of a tagged female black bear. Biologists routinely collect data on the state’s black bears and their cubs as part of the country’s longest-running study monitoring the health of the bear population.

The winner gets to watch the biologists at work and, maybe, help out by holding a cub.

Mama bear will be sedated with a tranquilizer and sleeping deeply.

“Sometimes they end up finding a den that doesn’t have cubs, so it’s not always a guarantee, but the team definitely needs extra hands when they’re at that point,” said Emily McCabe, director of information and education for the department.

The contest is the last part of the department’s Keeper of the Maine Outdoors Experience series. Three earlier contests allowed winners to sit in on the Warden Service’s canine training, take a special after-hours tour of the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray or help with a fish stocking project.

While this isn’t the first time members of the public have been allowed to join wildlife biologists on their bear study, McCabe called it a “rare opportunity.”

To enter, contestants have to answer five short quiz questions about the department and its work at KeeperOfTheMaineOutdoors.org, but those answers don’t need to be right for the entry to be valid. Contestants must be 18 or older.

The contest ends at noon on Feb. 19. A winner will be chosen at random on Feb. 20.

The department will work with the winner to select a day and location for the winter visit, though most of the department’s den sites are in the Downeast area.

The department’s three earlier contests each drew thousands of entries.

The contest series is part of the department’s effort to engage the public in creative ways.

“We really think it’s really important that people are informed and knowledgeable about fish and wildlife in Maine and the work that’s done to protect and manage them,” McCabe said.

Maine is home to more than 35,000 black bears. While they can be found throughout the state, most live in northern and eastern Maine. They can survive 30 years in the wild.

Every winter, the department’s biologists visit more than 75 black bear dens. The visits reveal how many cubs are born and how many survive their first year. During the visits, biologists weigh the bears, take blood samples and fit some female cubs with a tracking collar.

The department’s bear monitoring program began in 1975.

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