While the Black Bear Conservation Committee and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries are still in the middle of an ongoing five-year population estimate, all signs indicate that Louisiana’s black bear population is on the rebound. “We know that we’re getting a geographical dispersal of bears,” says Paul Davidson, executive director of the BBCC. “Because we never knew how many bears we had to begin with it’s kind of hard to say we know for a fact that the bear population is growing, although everything indicates it is.”
Conservative estimates now put the state’s black bear population at around 500. Davidson adds there have also been increased sightings of black bears, including in areas where the bears used to never roam. "When I first started this 17 years ago, there were no bears in east and west Carroll Parish, very few in Richland, Franklin parishes and now, there’s bears all over those parishes, there’s quite a few bears in Morehouse parish and Union parish. We are in a situation where we have a lot of bears and we’re starting to get a lot of complaints." Davidson says the complaints have largely come from Iberia and St. Mary Parish, where the bears have a limited habitat and have been known to rummage through residents' garbage.
Davidson says the new goal and projection is to have the Louisiana black bear off the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of threatened species by 2013. Since 2001, the BBCC has been involved in a program to re-introduce black bears to habitats outside of the protected Tensas preservation. The black bear was designated as a threatened species by the federal government in 1992, largely due to the bear’s dwindling bottomland hardwood habitat. Vast amounts of these swamp forests were converted into farmland throughout the soybean boom of the 60s and 70s and estimates had the state’s black bear population at less than 300. Over the past 20 years, efforts have been underway to convert properties back into the traditional forests, as well as help disperse the state’s bear population. Davidson says, since 1992, approximately one million acres of farmland has been converted back into bottomland hardwood habitat across the Louisiana black bear’s range of Louisiana, Mississippi and southeast Arkansas.
This weekend, the BBC helps put on the annual black bear festival in downtown Franklin. For more information, visit the festival Web site , or call 225-763-5425.