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Opinion: Remembering Bear No. 56

She was a bear that didn’t have a name.

Known to DNR researchers as bear No. 56, the world’s oldest-known wild bear died of old age in Itasca County at the age of 39.

How unusual was she?

Half the female bears in Minnesota don’t live past age 4, and just 5 percent make it to age 15, according to DNR bear project leader Dave Garshelis.

A 2010 DNR report involving 60,000 bears found that only three lived past age 30.

Bear No. 56 was first captured and radio-collared in July 1981 by DNR scientists during the first summer of a long-term research project on bear population ecology, according to Forum News Service reporter Sam Cook.

The bear was 7 years old at the time and was accompanied by three female cubs.

The black bear became a significant animal in DNR research. She and her many offspring provided an almost uninterrupted record of reproduction, survival, movements and, ultimately, aging within a single matriarchal lineage, researchers said.

Data from Bear No. 56 and her offspring contributed significantly to the scientific literature on black bear biology.

DNR wildlife research biologist Karen Noyce, tracking a signal from Bear No. 56’s radio-collar, found her on Aug. 20.

 “There were no signs of struggle, no broken bones,” Noyce said.

“It looked to me like she had lain down and died there.”

She was glad the bear’s life ended that way.

“It was satisfying not to find her by the roadside, not hit by a car,” Noyce said.

“We would have loved to see her live to 40, but we were prepared for this. It was a good time to die.”

Perhaps. But the world seems an emptier place somehow, knowing the queen of the bears has passed on.


Drive safe over the holiday weekend: Law enforcement will be out in full force because Labor Day weekend traditionally has high traffic volumes across the state.

For example, the Ted Foss “Move Over Law” enforcement campaign will be held Saturday.

The statewide “Move Over” law enforcement effort will accompany increased DWI enforcement on Saturday.

When traveling on a road with two or more lanes, motorists must keep over one full lane away from stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights activated — ambulance, fire, law enforcement, maintenance and construction vehicles.

This weekend also marks the final stage of a two-week Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over extra DWI enforcement campaign.

So stay on top of your driving game and make safe, smart decisions on the roadways — and while you’re out on the lakes.

So far, the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Campaign has resulted in 462 driving after revocation-suspension-cancellation citations.

There have been 230 seat belt citations, 21 car seat citations, 708 speeding tickets issued and 162 warrants cleared.

The message is clear: Keep it safe  out there or pay the price.