The Refuge Tree
When a mother black bear leads her cubs away from a den, her usual destination is a big tree where the cubs can take refuge from danger. Around Ely, that tree is typically a white pine over 21 inches in diameter. A mother may pass by thousands of other trees to reach a big white pine where she will rake a bed at the base for herself and the cubs. She seems to know where each big white pine is in her territory. Big white pines have strong, rough bark cubs can safely climb. Their needles give shade, and the branches are strong enough to hold whole families if need be.
Mothers leave their cubs at these “baby-sitter” trees and forage nearby, occasionally up to two miles away. The cubs sleep hidden in the crowns or play around the base, ready to climb at any hint of danger. If disturbed, they may remain quiet up the tree or yell in distress, bringing mothers running, grunting with concern.
Around Ely, mothers with cubs continue to seek out the safety of big white pines throughout spring and summer, making 92 percent of their beds at the bases of them. Other bears give more consideration to comfort, shade, and water than to the security of white pines.