Black bear study underway in Missouri

SPRINGFIELD MO – For several decades, Missouri’s bears have been something of a mystery. Numerous sightings in recent years have provided clear evidence that black bears live in this state. However, when it came to specific details about those bears (how many live here, are they year-round residents, is successful reproduction occurring, etc.), things weren’t so clear. Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) wildlife experts hope a multi-year study that started this fall will provide answers to many of their questions.

The study, which is being funded through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration program with help from Safari Club International, will provide information about the movement patterns, population densities, habitat preferences and overall numbers of Missouri bears.

“These data are needed to scientifically manage bear populations, through the use of regulated hunting, so that bears continue to thrive and expand into suitable habitats but, at the same time, conflicts are minimized for people living in bear country,” said Jeff Beringer, MDC resource scientist and project leader.

The target of the study is Ursus americanus, more commonly known as the black bear. This large mammal was found across Missouri when the first settlers arrived. Unregulated hunting and habitat alteration took its toll on Missouri’s bear population and, by the 1950s, bears were considered to be extirpated from the state.

Arkansas underwent a successful bear restoration program in the 1960s and it’s thought many of the bears we have in Missouri are the outgrowth of that program. Recent data collected indicate some bears in southwest Missouri are genetically unique and are likely the result of a Missouri bear population that was never completely extirpated.

In past years, MDC biologists conducted some bear monitoring, but the bulk of data obtained from these efforts merely showed spots where bears could be found and revealed little information about their habits and annual life cycles in Missouri.

The first phase of the current study – which is a joint effort between the MDC , the University of Missouri-Columbia and Mississippi State University – consists of trapping and radio-collaring 13 bears in southwest and south-central Missouri this fall. These bears will be monitored over winter to learn more about denning habits and the time frame of winter denning in Missouri.

In spring of 2011, hair snares at select sites throughout southwest and south-central Missouri will collect data that will help biologists get better estimates of overall population and male/female ratios. In fall 2011, 13 bears will be trapped and radio-collared in southeast Missouri and those bears’ denning habits will be monitored over the winter. The field portion of this project finishes in the spring of 2012 with the setting of hair snares in southeast Missouri.