BE BEAR AWARE
With More Louisiana Black Bears Around It’s Important To Know How To Avoid Conflicts
story by TREY ILES, LDWF Public Information
It’s been more than two years since the Louisiana black bear was removed from the list of species protected through the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The good news is Louisiana’s state mammal continues to flourish in the Bayou State, occupying historic ranges, according to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Large Carnivore Program Manager Maria Davidson. The Louisiana black bear is a subspecies of American black bear unique to Louisiana, western Mississippi and eastern Texas.
One of the benchmarks used to track the sustainability of the black bear in Louisiana is female bear survival. Currently, that vital rate exceeds 90 percent, a positive sign that the bear’s recovery in Louisiana continues.
That means more bears on the landscape. It also means the chance of more bear/human conflicts with them showing up in neighborhoods and cities not accustomed to seeing bears. They’re also being spotted in areas where hunters probably have not encountered them in the past.
“Bears can sometimes be a challenge to live with,’’ Davidson said. “Having said that, there are proactive things that either a homeowner or a hunter can do that can reduce if not completely eliminate conflict. If they take those steps, then conflicts with bears should be minimal.’’
Davidson said LDWF is both proactive and reactive when it comes to dealing with potential and real conflict. That’s why the department has joined forces with other wildlife agencies across the southeast United States and developed the website Bearwise.org. Supported by the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, of which LDWF is a part, the website provides valuable information on black bears and how to interact with them. It offers ways to prevent conflicts, provides resources to resolve problems and encourages community initiatives to keep bears wild.
In addition, LDWF makes available an on-line black bear curriculum for teachers to utilize in educating students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It can be found at blackbearinfo.com/teachers. Also, there is a traveling library display on the Louisiana black bear that is making its way through the state, available through Wildlife Outreach Biologist Carrie Salyers at email@example.com.
LDWF also works with various law enforcement agencies throughout the state to train them for possible conflicts, while continuing education of Wildlife Division field staff, including biologists and technicians, through hands-on experiences and biological workshops.
While LDWF has a Large Carnivore Program Manager responsible for major decisions and projects dealing with sustained management of the black bear, it is the daily support from the field staff that accomplish the ongoing management of black bear in Louisiana.
WHERE ARE THE BEARS?
At the time of listing as a threatened species in 1992, the Louisiana black bear population was estimated at 300 animals statewide. Today, the Louisiana black bear has been spotted in almost every part of the state.
But the majority of them are focused around four core areas, including the Tensas River Basin in northeast Louisiana, the Three Rivers Complex in east central Louisiana and the Upper and Lower Atchafalaya regions in south central Louisiana.
Many of the reported conflicts take place in the Lower Atchafalaya in St. Mary Parish.
“We work with St. Mary Parish to help provide bear proof garbage cans for most of those areas where we’ve seen a high number of complaints,’’ Davidson said. “Once you eliminate the access to human food then you eliminate the problem.’’
It probably comes as no surprise that bears eat a lot. They’ll consume 5,000 calories a day during spring and summer but that number can increase to as much as 20,000 calories in the fall as they prepare to put on fat reserves for the winter.
Bears also seek easily available food sources. Human garbage is high in calories, making it an easy mark for bears. Couple that with a bear’s keen sense of smell - better than a bloodhound with them able to smell a steak cooking from a mile away - and it’s easy to see why they’ll target a neighborhood’s trash cans.
That’s why it is imperative to secure trash cans in areas where bears occur. The BearWise.org website has excellent tips on doing that: bearwise.org/six-bearwise-basics/food-garbage.
ON THE HUNT
With bears moving into different areas of the state, it stands to reason that deer hunters will come into contact with them more frequently.
“Because bear occupancy is expanding in Louisiana every year, each fall brings forth a new hunter group that has never experienced hunting around bears before,’’ Davidson said. “They’re at the beginning of the learning curve, so every year we have to indoctrinate an entirely new group of deer hunters. They’ve never been around bears before and don’t know how to prevent conflicts.’’
It’s no secret that bears and white-tailed deer, one of Louisiana’s top hunted species, share the same woods. What may surprise some is that deer have little fear of bears because bears don’t actively pursue them.
But what they do have in common is a love for corn and that can cause a problem with some Louisiana deer hunters. Deer hunters would prefer bears stay away from their baits. Davidson, an avid deer hunter herself, said there are ways to discourage bears from eating the bait.
“Bait artificially concentrates bears where you are trying to hunt,’’ Davidson said. “One thing we recommend is switching to a food plot. If that’s not possible, then they should eliminate all corn and rice bran and other commercially available baits and switch to raw soybeans, which will minimize bear visitations.’’
While baiting is not recommended by LDWF, for those hunters that cannot manipulate their hunting habitat to focus critters to their area, the switch to a bait that is not preferred by bears will minimize attracting bears to their bait site.
Though black bears are big, strong animals, they are not overly aggressive and are normally more afraid of humans than the other way around. However, in their search for food, bears are curious about different scents and will investigate such in their quest for a meal.
Hunters need to be aware of their surroundings and potential food sources they bring along with them to their deer stand when they know that bears could be in the vicinity.
One deterrent recommended by Davidson is bear spray, a type of pepper spray that uses capsaicin to ward off bears.
“We advise hunters to arm themselves with knowledge,’’ Davidson said. “Learn more about bears, bear behavior and how to properly respond. Then, as an added insurance policy, bear spray is recommended to be carried on you in an easily accessible holster. When sprayed, it produces a fog between the hunter and the bear that affects all of the bear’s mucus membranes, including eyes, nose and mouth.’’
One point of emphasis is to know the difference between feral hogs and bears. From even short distances, the two animals can appear to be the same. While it is legal to harvest feral hogs, which have become a plague on the Louisiana landscape, it remains illegal to kill bears. The penalty for killing a black bear in Louisiana carries a fine and restitution of up to $10,000.
The Louisiana black bear is yet another treasure almost lost but now returned to the Sportsman’s Paradise. Through sustainable management of this megafauna species, LDWF hopes to continue reconnecting the historic ecosystems represented across our state and eventually return this species to harvestable status across its range. Thanks goes to the many private landowners, federal and non-governmental organization partners for assisting LDWF in the recovery of the bear.
For more information on the Louisiana black bear, contact Maria Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit LDWF’s bear page at www.wlf.louisiana.gov/american-black-bear
BEARS TAKE THE BAIT
Bears love to hang around baited deer plots, which can cause unwanted encounters with hunters.
Louisiana Black Bear
- Photo submitted by Conservationist reader Kim Bayard of New Iberia, La.
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