As with any wildlife population, objectives and attitudes of landowners, land managers, resource users, and the general public will determine if bears are considered an asset or a liability. Human attitudes will ultimately determine whether or not bears can survive.
Public perception of the Louisiana black bear will be partially dependent on immediate and effective responses by wildlife professionals to reported conflicts. Black bears may be killed by individuals who are unaware of solutions to simple problems, who feel that no effective solution for their particular conflict exists, or who think that no one cares.
Because the Louisiana black bear is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, killing bears within the historic range of the subspecies carries federal and state penalties that can include heavy fines (e.g., up to $10,000 in Louisiana), suspension of hunting privileges, and jail time. Informing the public about potential conflicts and available solutions is an important strategy in the overall restoration effort.
In general, conflicts between humans and wildlife can be addressed by either managing the animals involved in the conflict, manipulating the resource being damaged, or by placing a physical or psychological barrier between the conflicting resource and wildlife species. These same principles can be applied to management of human/bear conflicts.
Due to the legal status of the Louisiana black bear, conflict resolution will rely heavily on non-lethal damage control techniques, such as barriers, capture and aversive conditioning, and resource management strategies. Destruction of offending animals will only be considered if human health and safety is jeopardized and all other measures have failed.
Hunting is often recommended as a damage control tool because it reduces wildlife populations and associated problems to acceptable levels and elicits human-avoiding behavior in the hunted species. Legal harvest may become part of the overall management plan for the black bear in the future.
Until the subspecies is recovered, however, hunting is not considered a management option for the Louisiana black bear. Biologists will need to determine that restoration efforts have been successful, the harvestable surplus, and the maximum density of bears that will be tolerated by the public before bear hunting will be permitted.
Trapping nuisance bears and releasing them far from their capture site is called relocation. Relocating nuisance bears can cause them to roam over large areas in search of familiar surroundings. Bears have an excellent homing instinct, and will attempt to find their way back to familiar territory. Bears have been documented traveling up to 400 miles from relocation sites. This increases their susceptibility to being killed by vehicles along roads or by humans who perceive a threat to their own safety. Because of the stress and increased human interaction, relocated bears have a reduced chance of survival. In addition, moving a problem animal from one area to another can potentially bring a nuisance to the new area. Consequently, bears involved in conflicts with humans should be left in their established territory whenever possible.
Nuisance behavior can be altered through live trapping, conditioning, and releasing bears into the same general area. This can be accomplished by using the bear’s intelligence and quick learning ability to “teach” bears to stop nuisance behavior. This is referred to as aversive conditioning (see Aversive Conditioning section).
Barriers preventing access by bears may totally eliminate some ongoing problems and offer the greatest immediate relief from conflicts that arise. Barriers, in most cases, are both economically and technically feasible to install and are considered a viable option for controlling many types of bear-related damage. Solar-powered electric fencing for bee yards, for example, is an extremely effective bear deterrent.
Management of the resources being damaged or threatened is also applicable to our goal of effectively managing bear/human conflicts. In some cases, conflicts may be avoided by keeping susceptible resources away from bear habitat or by removing attractants that lure bears to those resources.
Cooperative Management Approach
Most state wildlife agencies have the sole responsibility for addressing bear/human conflicts when they occur. However, the Louisiana black bear is a threatened subspecies under the Endangered Species Act, thus, a federal role for managing the species exists. State and federal agencies have worked cooperatively to develop protocols for addressing conflicts. Written plans outline standard procedures that will be taken when bears create problems, including preventive measures, aversive conditioning, and possible removal of offending bears.
The responsibilities, relative to conflict management, of the various state and federal agencies have also been identified.
In Louisiana, problems are addressed by USDA Wildlife Services and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, in consultation with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
In Mississippi, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is the lead agency with assistance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will provide assistance to citizens who report bear problems in Texas.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission takes the lead in bear problems in Arkansas.
A Conflict Management Team consisting of the USDA Wildlife Services, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the BBCC staff has been working together successfully for the past several years in Louisiana. Efficient and effective response to complaints is more feasible when duties are shared among professional agency personnel. The responder is determined by the location, time, and availability of participants.