Bearpacker is Backpacker’s annual celebration of bear safety, science, and stories.
In the footage, the camera bounces along the forest floor, weaving between fallen logs and bright yellow hen-of-the-woods mushrooms as sunlight filters through the canopy above. A long, furry snout carves a black V out of the top of the frame, sniffing and huffing. The only other sounds are the crunch of four large paws on the dried oak leaves below.
The snout and paws belong to a wild black bear living in the forests of Virginia. Researchers captured the bear, equipped it with a collar-mounted GoPro, and released it as part of a study that’s trying to crack a surprisingly enduring mystery: What do bears do all day? The answer could determine how state and local governments deal with them and help scientists get a better understanding of one of our biggest, wildest neighbors.
If the bears are cinematographers, then Brogan Holcombe is their director. Holcombe, a master’s student at Virginia Tech, got her bachelor’s degree from the university before enrolling as a graduate student in January 2020. Along with Dr. Marcella Kelly, a professor in the school’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Holcombe has studied hibernation in bruins at the school’s Captive Bear Research Facility, monitoring their behavior by video 24/7 to help understand when and how they slip in and out of their seasonal sleep.