Bear angry

Damage to hunting land and property is one of the biggest complaints against bears increasing in numbers and range.

“Shoot/don’t shoot the bears” argument divides many in Louisiana

So much of America just seems angry these days.

Differences of opinion have become fighting words. Civil and informed discussions seem to be becoming a lost art. Politics. Religion. Bears.

Bears?

Yes, in Louisiana, if you want to rile folks up, just get in line for the discussion on the overabundance of black bears in the state and the argument over where, how and why they should be hunted to manage populations like other wildlife.

You don’t have to go deep in social media discussions to see the great divide.

I’m right, you’re wrong

Take this example from a popular bear reporting social media page where Tommy Caples of West Monroe posted a legitimate question.

“I’m sure this has been covered, but… What is the ‘purpose’ of saturating our very limited forest and game lands with the black bear? Were there just so many of them that you needed to find a home for them? Already, the deer are fighting for their life because of limited acorns, overpopulation of pigs and the pulp and paper industry. Why even more competition with limited resources? Just asking? I’m sure there’s a logical explanation, I just don’t know it,” Caples said.

In a matter of minutes, Trey Thames of Bossier City responded, “You actually believe humans put bears in just to be a nuisance? They have always been here! Humans would have hunted them to extinction if allowed to, remember the herds of buffalo? Humans are the issue not wildlife….” he posted.

Those were actually two of the nicer posts that often dot Facebook and other social media sites these days. The reason is simple. Bears are growing in numbers much faster than available habitat will provide for, but a lot of folks can’t get over the impression of cute little “Teddy Bears.” 

Bears have become the center of a growing controversy over crowding other wildlife out of their habitat, property destruction and an increase in interactions with humans, including up-close encounters between bears and hunters.

A momma bear leads her cub up to a hunter’s deer stand. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Black Bear Report)

No official count

There are lots of opinions and self-proclaimed experts on the subject, maybe as many as there are bears. There is no accurate, official count of either, but LDWF is working on that.

John Hanks, Large Carnivore Program Manager with the LDWF said it is now possible to see a bear in any of Louisiana’s 64 parishes. 

“We are continually monitoring and working with black bears in Louisiana,” he said. “We are currently doing cub counts for reproduction and recruitment estimates and we also do capture-mark-recapture (CMR) population estimate projects. These projects and others that we will continue to do into the future will affect how we manage bears in this state. 

“Through 2019, population monitoring and estimates were focused on studies of only four bear subpopulations, Lower Atchafalaya Basin (LAB), Upper Atchafalaya Basin (UAB), Three Rivers Corridor (TRC) and Tensas River Basin (TRB), that exist in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV), according to the LDWF. Most recent LDWF estimates for those four subpopulations is ~600-1,000 bears.” 

Others estimate that there may be many more. The official estimates go up slowly each year, but even old math suggests that reproducing females giving birth to two or three cubs each year are boosting numbers fast. Bears have long life spans — around 20 years in the wild. Black bears in Louisiana have no natural predators. Getting an exact count is near impossible, but as close as possible a count is important to future management.

LDWF Large Carnivore Program Manager John Hanks with three Louisiana black bear cubs tagged during winter denning as part of the state’s black bear conservation efforts. (Photo courtesy LDWF)

“The largest populations are in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and the Atchafalaya Basin all the way to the coast,” Hanks said. 

There are places in the state of Louisiana that are excellent bear habitat. Those places are where our largest populations are located. 

Bears also live in other places that are less desirable habitat and there are some places that are very urban that we do not want to promote bear populations. Hunting allows an opportunity for the use of excess animals by the public. Bear is an excellent natural protein source. 

“Through the hard work of our landowners, citizens, LDWF, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, countless government and non-government agencies, and many other people and volunteers that have not been mentioned, we have stable and growing populations in our best habitat,” Hanks said.

More benefits

There are other benefits to an organized, professional approach to bear hunting in the future. The obvious first concern is managing excess bear populations. But in a state that spends millions to attract visitors, a bear season in all areas of the state could bring in big bucks. Some states report upwards of 10 million dollars in economic benefits from tourism from bear hunting. And the bears do not go to waste. They are used from head to toe for everything from rugs to jewelry to meat and other byproducts, just like other wildlife that is harvested.

Exact details around Louisiana’s first season are still being developed and Louisiana Sportsman will keep readers informed of those when they become set. One of the sticking factors so far with sportsmen and landowners is that only 10 bears were to be allowed hunted in preliminary plans.

“There is potential for expansion in the future,” Hanks said. “Many factors are taken into consideration when opening or changing a hunting season for any animal.”

While right now and in the coming months, bear hunting in Louisiana may seem like an uphill battle where nobody will be happy, that’s not the case, according to Hanks.

“Anytime a species is recovered and delisted it is a win-win situation,” Hanks said. “We have some excess bears at this point and we want to provide an opportunity for our citizens to use those animals. A 330-pound bear can provide a family with 200 plates of food. Bears have not been hunted in this state in almost 40 years.”

In the meantime, Hanks and his peers keep working for the best possible outcome for the state’s sportsmen. It’s a “hotseat” of sorts, but he doesn’t mind.

“I am fortunate to be surrounded with a great support staff, an administration that I can call on for support anytime day or night, the trust of the many people that make the public we serve as an agency, and many predecessors that paved the way with their hard work to allow me to be where I am now,” he said.

More and bigger bears have become a growing nuisance in places where the largest populations are located.

Living with bears

Whether you care about hunting bears or not, the presence of a growing number of bears in a growing number of areas is causing inconvenience and problems for a large group of residents. The LDWF advises using the following precautions to help minimize the nuisance.

If you live around bears, hotter weather means black bears have emerged from dens, may have cubs with them and are on the prowl. 

Because of the growing number of bears in places where people are not used to seeing them and growing concern that human/bear conflict is going to lead to human injury, or worse, the LDWF has issued some tips for protecting yourself and your property.

You can help protect your property from black bears this spring and summer by:

  • putting away your bird feeders
  • keep your grill and smoker covered and clean drip pans after each use
  • always lock your vehicle
  • never leave coolers and other food items in your pickup truck bed
  • store your garbage in a secure location and keep trash cans cleaned to reduce odors
  • don’t leave pet food outside for prolonged periods of time 

 

Out of control

Surging bear populations, conflicts can only be managed by hunting

Reprinted with permission of Maria Davidson, Safari Club International

Many states throughout the continental U.S. are seeing a rise in black bear populations. Population growth pushes bears into human-dominated areas that are unsuitable for wildlife, precipitating a comparable increase in dangerous conflicts with humans, pets, and livestock. 

Undoubtedly, this warrants a wholesale reevaluation of population management strategies. Bears play an essential and unique place in our ecosystem, but they must be managed at a level coincident with human populations.

Only feasible tool

Regulated hunting is the only feasible tool for this aspect of wildlife management. While most U.S. states have implemented regulated bear seasons, the few that have not should strongly consider this as an option.

This is certainly the case for Louisiana, Florida, and Connecticut, which have experienced unchecked expanding black bear numbers but have yet to establish hunts that would keep the populations within sustainable and desirable levels.

Proper bear management must strike a delicate balance. That balance could and should be determined through a process that takes into consideration the impact of bear populations on local residents, and their social tolerance of bear populations. The people most impacted by growing numbers of bears — who are most likely to interact with bears — should be given special consideration, and their opinions given special emphasis. The importance of hunting to that end is, at best, misunderstood by the public and, at worst, overruled by uninformed emotional pleas. Regulated bear hunting plays a pivotal role in maintaining ecological harmony and ensuring the safety of human communities.

Bears ideally live within geographic boundaries designated as suitable habitats by state wildlife management authorities. They thrive and contribute to the ecosystem like any other apex predator within these boundaries. As bear populations grow and reach saturation within these areas, however, their reproduction rates do not decline as drastically as other species.

The “extra” bears simply move out of the core areas and begin to occupy adjacent landscapes, sometimes quite far from their mothers’ home ranges. Black bears are known for their incredible mobility and agility, allowing them to venture far beyond their current habitat in search of food and territory.

Maria Davidson conducting an aerial black bear survey.

Wrong environments

The bears’ needs and ability to move inevitably send them into human-dominant environments. These are fundamentally unsuitable habitats that put bears in close, even potentially dangerous, proximity to people. This situation is a recipe for conflict as bears will be bears, and humans will be humans. It is unrealistic to expect bears to avoid the temptation of easily accessible, high-calorie, human-generated food sources like trash, food scraps, or birdfeeders. The resulting conflicts are disruptive and pose a clear and present danger to humans.

It is equally unrealistic to expect an entire populace to bear-proof their homes and surroundings. And it would be like a Band-Aid on a wound that requires stitches. If a bear population remains unchecked, it will continue to produce offspring beyond what a suitable environment can sustain.

When comparing states with and without regulated bear hunting, the contrast is all too obvious. Florida has seen its growing bear population venture into Disney World, of all places, as well as play in the surf on a Destin, Florida beach. 

The lack of hunting to control the bear population means the bears are, literally, expanding everywhere. Connecticut, with no hunting season, experiences an average of 870 annual human-bear conflicts. Neighboring Massachusetts, whose bear population is four times the size of Connecticut’s, experienced only 504 conflicts annually. 

Forced to reopen

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who is no friend to hunting, was forced to reopen a limited bear hunt to manage the expanding population in northwestern New Jersey. That population more than doubled between 2018 and 2022, resulting in a 237% increase in human-bear conflicts between 2021 and 2022.

That bear hunting helps reduce human-bear conflicts is not anecdotal. Wildlife and Natural Resources from Minnesota to Maryland continually stand firm on the same claims, that bear hunting is a critical aspect of proper management that keeps their populations in check and reduces conflicts with humans in a way the food chain is not capable of.

After retiring from a 28-year career with the LDWF, Maria Davidson is now the Large Carnivore Program Manager for the Safari Club International Foundation.

Ultimately, there are no other practical population management alternatives to hunting. For this reason, the wildlife authority of almost every state with a sizable bear population relies on a regulated hunt to control it. In the states that have not yet implemented a hunt, wildlife management authorities should be able to make recommendations without being silenced by misinformed anti-hunters or bureaucratic political administration.

Bear hunting is not merely a sport but a crucial component of wildlife management and responsible conservation. By preventing bear overpopulation and habitat expansion via hunting, state governments can minimize conflicts with human communities and the disruption of ecosystems without significant costs to taxpayers. It’s a win-win solution for bears and people alike. 

Maria Davidson is the Large Carnivore Program Manager for the Safari Club International Foundation. Maria received her BS from the University of Louisiana and her MS from Louisiana State University. She recently retired after a 28-year career as the Large Carnivore Program Manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. She coordinated research activities with universities, federal agencies, NGOs and private landowners to address recovery needs of the federally listed Louisiana black bear. The research findings of this work resulted in the delisting of the Louisiana black bear in 2016.

About Kinny Haddox 597 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.