If you see a black bear with a red necklace, know two things: You are not hallucinating, and you probably shouldn't shoot it.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is asking bear hunters to not kill about 35 bears that are being followed for a state research study on habitat and mating. The bears are tagged with brightly colored radio collars that monitor behavior, and with colorful tags in their ears that are also designed to make them easier to spot.
There are around 20,000 black bears in Minnesota, most in the northwestern part of the state, and their life is pretty sweet except for one thing: guns. About 80 percent of all black bear deaths in Minnesota are the result of hunting, according to the DNR.
Among other things, the DNR's study is trying to answer the question of just how long black bears can live: The oldest known black bear in North America, a 37-year-old female, lives in Minnesota.
About 3,000 bears are hunted each year in Minnesota, a number that becomes a lot more impressive when considering how short bear hunting season is. Open season is only six weeks, and this year runs from September 1 to October 16.
Dave Garshelis, a bear researcher with the DNR, pleaded with hunters to not shoot at the valuable research bears, whose collars have a GPS unit that the DNR uses to track their movements.
"We're asking that if hunters see ear tags or a collar on a bear, they refrain from shooting it," Garshelis said. "Researchers have invested an enormous amount of time and expense in these individuals."
If anyone does unwittingly shoot one of the research bears, they're asked to contact the DNR immediately. If anyone does it on purpose, he's a jerk.
Clearly, the best strategy for the other bears is to figure out how to make something that looks like one of these collars, and hang out with those elitist research bears.