Black bears occurred historically throughout the southcentral and southeastern United States, but due to unregulated harvest and land use change, bear abundance and distribution was markedly reduced. In Missouri, black bear abundance similarly declined and few bears were present in the state by the early 1900s. Arkansas, Missouri’s southern neighbor, conducted a black bear restoration program from 1959 to 1967, releasing in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains 254 bears obtained from Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada. Growth of this restored black bear population coincided with an increase of black bear sightings in Missouri, such that during 2000–2010 the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) received 512 reports of bears in 75 counties.
In response to these increased sightings, we partnered with the MDC in 2010 to better understand black bear abundance and distribution throughout Missouri. Using a variety of scientific techniques, we estimated the number of bears statewide and determined the amount of habitat that was potentially suitable. From our original population estimate in 2012, and a model we developed that forecasts population growth, we estimated in 2019 there were about 540–840 black bears in Missouri.
This research has greatly improved our understanding of black bear populations, habitat use, and ecology in Missouri. Because of the current estimated size of Missouri’s black bear population and its projected growth, the MDC has determined this population can sustain a limited and highly regulated hunting season. If a permit and harvest quota are established by Missouri’s Conservation Commission, the proposed black bear season would occur in October 2021 and represents the first regulated hunt in Missouri. Our collaborative research has provided the scientific foundation from which this harvest was based. We are thrilled to partner with organizations like MDC that provide science-based information to inform species management, including sustainable hunting opportunities for their constituents. You can learn more about black bear management and the proposed hunt in Missouri at: https://mdc.mo.gov/bears.
“Collar placement” – Title “Researchers placing GPS collar on anesthetized black bear (image credit: Missouri Department of Conservation).