Black Bears are Back

By: Jim Newcomb

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission conducts Black Bear den surveys each year deep in the heart of Arkansas' Ouachita and Ozark National Forests looking for Black Bear Cubs. Biologists go deep into the woods for the purpose of collecting information and monitoring the Black Bear population in Arkansas. This work is vital to the AGFC's effort in monitoring the state's Black Bear population. Every winter, biologist’s conduct den surveys on nearly 70 female bears, keeping very detailed records. On average tagged female bears are tracked for 10 years. AGFC takes great pride in their work with the bears, putting in countless hours doing whatever it takes to complete den surveys before the end of winter. Female bears generally begin searching for dens in early October and don't come out until mid-April.

Bears that have been tracked over the years were previously fitted with GPS tracking collars. Once the signal is picked up, the AGFC's biologists pin point the den location by looking for the make-shift mounds of dirt along the bluffs and hills. They listen for the soft humming noise coming from the den of a mother Black Bear and her cubs, a tell tale sign they are getting closer to their target. Black Bears have a unique sound and musky type odor all to their own. That humming sound one hears is that of healthy baby bears, nursing to their little heart’s content. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists will then slowly and carefully move in. An angry Black Bear is hard enough to deal with, but a mother bear with cubs; well you don’t want to go there. You just never know what could happen; AGFC biologists have been charged by angry mother bears more than once. After tranquilizing the mother bear, biologists will take measurements of the cubs, logging all the details, including weight, body length, and even fur length. The AGFC doesn’t track male bears; the information is gained by the recordkeeping of the female bears and their reproductive cycles.

Mr. Myron Means is the Arkansas Game and Fish Statewide Bear Program Coordinator. The Game and Fish Wildlife Biologist in the river valley area is Shell Shocked Outdoors’ good friend, Ralph Meeker. In a conversation with Shell Shocked Outdoors last winter, Mr. Meeker informed us there were two very important parts to the management of Black Bears. You have to know what's being taken out of the Black Bear population and going back into that population to maintain a proper count on this magnificent animal. Harvest information lets the AGFC know what’s going on in the world of Black Bears.

A thriving bear population is important across the country, and especially in "The Natural State." Not many know that Arkansas used to be known as the "The Bear State." In the mid 1800s, nearly 50,000 black bear roamed Arkansas. Over the years, bear fat became a hot commodity because it could be used for so many different things. Fuel for oil lamps, insect repellent, and hair gel; this led to unregulated uncontrolled hunting of the animal. In the late 1920s, the AGFC put an end to bear hunting, but despite their efforts, the number of black bears dropped to just 50 by the late 1940s.

For that reason, in about 1960, AGFC officials began the process of re-introducing Black Bears into the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests once again. They went to Minnesota and Canada, brought back more than 250 black bears, and released them into Arkansas Mountains. With careful regulation, research, and field studies over the last forty nine years, the Black Bear population began to thrive. Almost 5,000 Black Bears currently live in Arkansas.

According to the AGFC, the re-introduction of Black Bears to our state is one of the most successful large carnivore re-introductions projects in American wildlife history. The bear hunting ban was lifted in 1980 under careful regulation by AGFC. Arkansas' bear season lasts from mid-September to mid-December.

Arkansas State Representative Steve Breedlove stated, “The AGFC Black Bear Project has been a marvelous success, well worth the citizen’s tax dollars. Arkansas citizens are reaping the benefits of the dedication and hard work of the AGFC biologists.” The further dedication and hard work of the AGFC biologists will ensure the enjoyment of this magnificent animal for years to come.

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