Black Bear Research
The MDWFP is cooperatively conducting research on back bears with Dr. Jerry Belant of the Mississippi State University (MSU) Forest and Wildlife Research Center. Research projects have been conducted most recently since 2009 with current project funding committed through 2018.
Black bears (Ursus americanus spp.) are the largest carnivore species native to Mississippi and historically occurred throughout the southeastern coastal plain. Although nearly extirpated from areas in the south, Federal and State protection along with restoration efforts have assisted in the successful re-establishment of viable bear populations in Louisiana and Arkansas. Currently, all bears within the historic range of the Louisiana black bear (U. a. luteolus); which includes the southern and western portions of Mississippi, are protected by Federal and State regulations.
In Mississippi, black bears are naturally re-establishing populations in the Delta region. Over the past 10 years bear sightings in Mississippi have increased; a probable result of an increasing bear population. The success of reintroduction programs in neighboring states likely indirectly supported an increasing bear population in Mississippi.
Current research in Mississippi is identifying areas of black bear habitat use and probable sites for population establishment, and quantifying potential corridors for black bear movement. Continued marking and monitoring of individuals in this population is necessary to ensure long-term viability of this small, but increasing population. Demographic data, including reproduction, recruitment, and survival is necessary to characterize and model bear populations for sustainability. Mississippi is currently establishing a long-term data base that will serve as the scientific basis for making management decisions about black bears in the state.
Each year, the MDWFP works cooperatively with MSU to:
- Conduct den checks when female bears are hibernating so gather reproductive data. This allows researchers to monitor new cubs after they are born. Cubs are often fitted with digital ID devices so we can monitor them over the course of their lifetime. Annually, researchers monitor 7-10 dens, whether in trees or on the ground.
- Capture adult bears during the summer months, especially those discovered as cubs during den checks. Bears are typically fitted with tracking devices so they can be located throughout the year and we can learn valuable information about their habitat use and selection. During most years, we capture approximately 10 bears per summer. Some tracking devices are GPS-based and location data is gather by satellites and transmitted to researchers. Other devices require personnel to locate bears using radio signal, which we can do from airplanes for vehicles.
The status the black bears in Mississippi is a great success story. By the time black bears were afforded protection by the state in 1932, it was believed less than 12 animals were left in the entire state. This dramatic decline from historic populations was primarily caused by the clearing of land for agriculture and from overhunting. A restocking program was attempted in 1934 when three pairs of bears were released in separate locations, but those restocking efforts are believed to be unsuccessful. In 1976, the last documented breeding population of bears was in a wooded area of Issaquena County. In 2006, we estimated approximately 50 bears to be present in Mississippi. From 2005-2010, biologists documented six litters of black bear cubs born to different females throughout the state. Today, estimates of our bear population have more than doubled. This population increase is due primarily to the recent appearance of female bears in our state which has led to the births of numerous cubs in the last several years, something not documented in Mississippi in the previous 40 years. Additionally, general sightings of bears have increased dramatically all over the state, likely due to dispersing bears from populations in neighboring states. We continue to document black bear reproduction in Mississippi annually and are excited to see this iconic large mammal return to parts of the State where it once roamed in abundance.