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Science and the Environment

Meetings Planned Across the State, Including In Springfield, To Share Info On Black Bears

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The Forest Vixon's CC Photo Stream
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Flickr

The Missouri Department of Conservation is holding meetings across the state for people to learn more about black bears.  The first is Tuesday, July 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, 4601 S. Nature Center Way. 

MDC furbearer biologist, Laura Conlee, said the open houses are a chance for the public to comment on the department’s draft black bear management plan.

"There's no regulations proposals tied to it.  This is just an opportunity for us to hear what folks think about the goals and objectives of that plan," she said, "and it's an opportunity then for people to also provide input on bears in general...what their views are on the population, experience with human/bear conflict, just some basics like that."

The management plan, she said, is designed to help MDC with bear management over the next 10 years and focuses on things like human/bear conflicts, the bear population and different types of research.

The bear population in Missouri is growing, according to Conlee.

"We have about 540 to 840 bears in the state, and that range  is expanding," she said.  "We're starting to see  more and more bear sightings in areas like around Lake of the Ozarks, south of St. Louis--some of these areas that we're kind of considering expansion areas."

Most of Missouri’s bear population is south of I-44 in the forested areas of the Ozarks. 

MDC is looking at allowing future hunting of black bears in the state.  The department has said the population must reach 500 for that to happen, according to Conlee, which it has. 

"We've exceeded that benchmark and, so, right now we'll be starting deliberations on what that season could look like, but there's no timeline yet, there's no regulations, there's no details of that," said Conlee.  "We're just in those very preliminary conversations about that."

According to Conlee, hunting will be the primary management tool for the bear population.  She said black bear populations can grow "pretty rapidly."  That's despite the fact that they reproduce every other year.  Females can live up to 25 years in the wild, and their survival rates are high.  Cub survival rates are also high, "so a hunting season would be used to control that population growth within target levels, so looking at social carrying capacity as well as what the habitat can support," said Conlee.

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Credit Michele Skalicky
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Black Bear Cubs

When the black bear population gets too high in certain areas, human/bear conflicts can increase, which is not good for humans or bears.  Bears can get into trash and knock down birdfeeders.  And when bears become acclimated to human food sources and begin to seek those out on a regular basis, they become comfortable around humans, according to Conlee.

"That's when you hear that 'a fed bear is a dead bear,' and that's really true," she said, "so those bears that become too comfortable seeking out that food, it could escalate to breaking into sheds or bears approaching people.  We've had instances where people try to feed a bear.  They put out a sandwich for it and things like that, and that teaches that bear to look for food in those situations, and those are the bears that are typically removed from the population because they've become too acclimated to humans."

Conlee said those who live in bear country should keep their trash secure, don't feed birds when bears are active, and don't put food out for bears.  She asks anyone who spots a bear to report the sighting at mdc.mo.gov/bears.

If you can't make it to one of the black bear meetings, you can view the presentation and provide input online

Meetings will be held:

  • Tuesday, July 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, 4601 S. Nature Center Way
  • Thursday, July 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Landing, 110 Front St. in Van Buren
  • Thursday, July 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 202 Walnut St. in West Plains
  • Tuesday, July 30, from 6 to 8 p.m. at MDC Powder Valley Nature Center, 11715 Cragwold Rd. in St. Louis