The black bear is on the rise and returning to parts of Nevada where it hasn’t been seen in almost a century. That’s the encouraging news from a report on 150 years of black bear history put together by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) which was published this week in The Journal of Wildlife Management.
Although black bears had almost disappeared from the state in the early 1900s, wildlife and law enforcement officers noticed a 17-fold increase in bears killed in road accidents between the early 1990s and the mid-2000s. There was also a corresponding rise in reported conflicts between humans and bears that began around 1987.
That forced the wildlife researchers to take a closer look at where Nevada’s black bears had lived in the past — and where they were returning after their near-extinction in the state by the early 1930s. While lots of bears were certainly killed by overhunting, they noted that the loss of habitat caused by clear-cutting the forest in that era also contributed to the disappearance of the species.
NDOW’s Carl Lackey, one of the study’s authors, told a Reno, Nevada newspaper that the bears are making a natural comeback to the territory they lived in before: “Black bears once roamed clear across Nevada. Everywhere you look at today and think bears could probably live in, they probably did at some point. It appears that some of them are going back.”
When most of the forest was cut down in the interior, a few black bears survived in the rugged, western part of the state. Now some of those bears are marching east.
In a controversial move, Nevada has even opened a black bear hunt, with 25 bears being taken by hunters during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, bringing around $50,000 to the state for bear tags (hunting permits) and other costs. However, earlier in March, the legislature listened to debate about banning future hunts.
In my area, the Louisiana black bear is listed as a threatened subspecies. However, the US Fish and Wildlife Service says the species is on the rise in nearby Mississippi.
How about you? Is your area seeing more black bears?
[black bear photos by Elaine Radford]