Sports A Field

Good News from Bear Country

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Feds delist Louisiana black bears and propose the same for Yellowstone grizzlies.

As spring bear seasons get underway around North America, bear populations throughout the continent are thriving. Recent news stories highlighted the recovery of a population of black bears in Louisiana and increasing numbers of grizzly bears in the Lower 48.

In March, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that after twenty-four years of recovery efforts by a broad array of partners, the Louisiana black bear—the inspiration for the Teddy bear—will be removed from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

The bear became part of American culture after a hunting trip to Mississippi in 1902, where President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear that had been captured and tied to a tree by members of his hunting party. The episode was featured in a cartoon in The Washington Post, sparking the idea for a Brooklyn candy-store owner to create the “Teddy” bear.

The delisting follows a comprehensive scientific review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the bear’s status. The majority of Louisiana black bear habitat falls on private lands, where the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the Interior worked with Louisiana farmers to voluntarily restore more than 485,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests in priority areas for conservation.

When the Louisiana black bear was listed under the ESA in 1992 due to habitat loss, reduced quality of habitat and human-related mortality, the three known breeding subpopulations were confined to the bottomland hardwood forests of Louisiana in the Tensas and Upper and Lower Atchafalaya River basins. Today, those subpopulations have all increased in number and have stabilized to increasing growth rates. Additional breeding subpopulations are forming in Louisiana and Mississippi, providing a healthy long-term outlook for the species. Today, the Service estimates that 500 to 750 bears live across the species’ current range.

In other encouraging bear news, the Fish & Wildlife Service is also proposing to lift the threatened-species designation for Yellowstone-area grizzly population, opening the door for possible future hunting for these bears in areas surrounding the park in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The proposal caps a forty-year effort to rebuild the grizzly population in the Lower 48. Since grizzlies in the Lower 48 were added to the ESA list in 1975, the number in the Yellowstone region has increased from 136 to an estimated 1,000 today.

A final decision on the matter is due within a year. The potential delisting is likely to encounter resistance from animal-rights groups, however. An attempt was made to remove grizzlies from the threatened list in 2007, but environmental groups challenged the government in court, and protections were restored.

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