During the past twenty years or so, multiple states have experienced increasing bear populations. Bears are recolonizing former range and expanding into areas now occupied by people. SCI Foundation is committed to understanding bear demographics and the potential influence that sex, age and seasons have on human-wildlife conflict. SCI Foundation has been assisting the Missouri Department of Conservation and Mississippi State University in learning about black bear populations in The Show Me State. The $55,000 allocated by the SCI Foundation Conservation Committee has been vital to the successful collection of data required for sound, science-based management of bears in the area.
The research team recently reported that Missouri is home to approximately 225 black bears. In a 10-county area of south-central Missouri, four distinct breeding populations exist. Female bears den earlier than males, and some bears found in Missouri today probably are remnants of the state’s historic bear population, rather than recent arrivals from Arkansas. There is a great need to properly manage the expanding Missouri bear numbers. The project includes capturing and tagging bears, fitting them with radio tracking collars, and using video cameras to monitor their diet and daily activities. Biologists also are also using bear DNA to unlock secrets about where Missouri’s bears originate.
This work is helping to answer additional important questions, such as:
• Where do Missouri bears live?
• How widely do they range?
• What do they eat?
• When do cubs leave their mothers, and how far do they go?
• How can Missourians more effectively avoid conflicts with bears?
• Can carefully regulated hunting be useful for reducing conflicts?
Deliberately feeding bears, failing to secure pet or livestock feed, or trying to lure bears close enough for photos all can rob bears of their natural fear of people and result in conflicts. The number of complaints about nuisance bears has increased in recent years in most range states. Most of these situations could be avoided by denying bears access to food or garbage. For more information on black bears in Missouri, including this research project, sightings, and managing for black bears around potential food sources, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/973
Black bears are a valuable resource to many people in several different ways. Knowledge gained and techniques perfected in Missouri have direct application to other States where black bears range and will improve stewardship to benefit bears while minimizing human conflicts. The impact of bears as predators of deer fawns and livestock needs to be carefully monitored and ultimately controlled to maintain the tolerance of local people. A carefully regulated harvest leads to well-managed bear populations, and has been shown to alleviate nuisance complaints. Hunting pressure forces bears into many diverse relationships with other natural food resources and directs bears into different habitat selection patterns further minimizing potential for human conflicts.
Keeping the species on the landscape is providing some challenges along with the numerous benefits. This initiative, funded by SCI Foundation, is just one way that hunter conservationists continue to pave the way for advances in wildlife science to address the challenges and highlight the rewards of living in bear country.