Missouri Releases Estimated Bear Population

Missouri Dept. of Conservation, Bear Hunting Magazine

Data from a research study that began in 2010 regarding Missouri’s black bear population was recently released. Information was collected from live-trapping, radio collars and hair snaring.

The goal of Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is to use the information to better manage black bears in the state. As of their news release, biologists have fitted 61 adult bears with radio collars. They have also set 785 hair snares in 11 counties in the southern part of the state. These snares are small wire enclosures that collect small tufts of fur from bears crossing the wire to get to the bait in the center. These then can reveal valuable genetic information about the bears. Hair samples have been collected from 141 bears so far.

With the information gathered so far, MDC believes the state-wide black bear population to be approximately 225, although much work remains to validate this preliminary estimate.

DNA evidence suggests the largest of the female reproducing bear populations are located Webster and Douglas counties and may be a remnant of Missouri’s original black bear population. Bears located elsewhere in the state maybe descended from ones brought to Arkansas as part of a re-introduction program and later dispersed into Missouri.

The study isn’t completed yet. Their next step is to determine how fast the population is growing, what the female survival rates are, how old the sows are they when they have their first litter, how many litters they have in a lifetime, how many cubs do they have and what is the survival rate of the cubs.

As a way of reducing the number of bear-human conflicts occurring in Missouri, one of the outcomes of this study might be the institution of a limited bear hunting season. If the data supports a hunting opportunity, it would be a highly regulated season favoring the harvest of males and would take place in the winter when females are in their dens. However, before recommending a hunting season, more information is needed to predict how an annual harvest may affect the overall population.

The state has had an increase in bear/human conflicts in recent years. For more information on black bears in Missouri, including the research project, sightings, and preventing and dealing with black bears around potential food sources, visit MDC online at mdc.mo.gov and search “black bear.”

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