Missouri Working On Bear Population

Missouri Dept. of Conservation, Bear Hunting Magazine

The Missouri Department of Conservation is beginning a two-year study to find out how many black bears are living in the state following an increase in sightings in the last few years.

State biologists have been tracking the bears in eleven counties in far southern Missouri since last fall and seem to be coming to Missouri from Arkansas, which imported black bears from Minnesota four decades ago. Missouri's chief biologist, Jeff Beringer, uses doughnuts to bait large steel traps. When the bears go inside the traps, a grate slams shut.

The department so far has has caught and released 49 bears with using bait and traps, including five just this last week in Howell and Oregon counties, north of the Arkansas border. Thirty of them have been equipped with GPS collars, allowing the study group to track their travels and locate their dens. When a bear is found, it is sedated for about an hour so workers can attach the collars.

They are counting the bears in far southern Missouri, where the hilly wooded Ozarks provide perfect bear habitat while next year they plan to go to twelve southeastern counties, stretching north into Jefferson and Franklin counties.

The project also has set-up 375 "hair snare" locations throughout the study area. Fish-oil bait is ringed by barbed wire and when bears brush against them they leave bits of fur. The project is a collaboration between the state, the University of Missouri and Mississippi State University. The scientists will estimate the bear population when they gather enough data.

A spokesman for the Department of Conservation said that Missouri may someday allow bear hunting, which it has prohibited for decades. Arkansas, with an estimated bear population of about 3,500, has allowed limited hunting since 1980.

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