Forest management practices also encourage food production for bears. Grasses, thistles, blackberries, pokeweed, and several fruiting vines are common in managed forest habitats.
Louisiana black bears that exist today do so primarily in relatively large contiguous areas of bottomland hardwood habitat. The ingredients of prime black bear habitat include escape cover, dispersal corridors, abundant and diverse natural foods, water, and den sites. Because bears are adaptable, habitat generalists, a well-managed, productive forest can reliably provide the essentials of good black bear habitat.
High quality escape cover is especially critical for bears that live in fragmented habitats and in close proximity to humans. Black bears are adaptable and can thrive if afforded areas of retreat that ensure little chance of close contact or visual encounters with humans. The thick understory typical in managed bottomland hardwood forests provide such natural cover. The quality of escape cover can be enhanced when slash and vegetative growth resulting from prescribed timber management practices such as shelterwood cuts, intermediate thinnings, and small elongated clear-cuts are combined with natural understory thickets.
Forest management practices also encourage food production for bears. Grasses, thistles, blackberries, pokeweed, and several fruiting vines are common in managed forest habitats. Elderberry, devil’s walking stick, French mulberry, red mulberry and wild grapes all benefit from scattered openings in forest canopy. Rotting wood from decomposing logging slash harbors protein-rich, colonial insects like ants and termites, which are sought by bears during most of the year. Additional foraging opportunities are made available by the maintenance of small, scattered permanent wildlife openings in or adjacent to the forest. Natural vegetation, cultivated grains and forage crops (e.g., wheat, oats, rye, corn, clover), and plants found along the edge of forest openings (e.g., blackberries, dewberries, pokeweed, elderberry, devil’s walking stick) are beneficial to bears.
Black bears use heavy cover for daybed and den sites. Most bears in the Atchafalaya Basin use brush piles and other ground nests for daybeds and winter dens. Ground dens are typically made next to discarded logs or in thick briar and vine growth. Bears in the Tensas River Basin often used daybed sites in hardwood forests that have been logged within the previous five years. Winter den sites in the Tensas Basin, however, are predominately found in tree cavities rather than ground dens. Cavity trees are especially important in seasonally flooded areas. In the White River NWR, for example, over 90% of bears den in tree cavities. On the Tensas River NWR, where some winter flooding is common, about 70% of the bears den in trees. The federal listing specifically states that den trees, den tree sites, and candidate den trees in occupied habitat are to be protected. Candidate den trees are considered to be bald cypress and tupelo gum with visible cavities, having a minimum diameter at breast height (dbh) of 36 inches, and occurring in or along rivers, lakes, streams, bayous, sloughs, or other water bodies. However, studies throughout the region frequently document other tree species used as den sites (e.g., green Ash, American elm, sweetgum, water hickory, overcup oak) that are not necessarily over water.