BBCC is focused on research because we recognize that the best management practices are based on sound science.
Dr. Joe Clark from the University of Tennessee is currently developing a model to examine and try to predict the dynamics of isolated populations of both Louisiana and Florida subspecies of black bears. The study will provide managers with the tools and information needed to assess and mitigate the impacts of current and future land use on black bear populations and to guide future reintroductions.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are continuing their repatriation efforts, bringing bears from White River NWR to Felsenthal NWR in southern Arkansas.
Under the direction of Dr. Mike Chamberlain at Louisiana State University, John Benson is working on habitat use by bears in northeastern and south-central Louisiana. Dr. Chamberlain is supervising work estimating the population of the coastal bears using a DNA hair-snare technique.
Biologists place Mississippi’s current bear population at approximately 120 animals. The
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) Black Bear Program teamed with Mississippi State University (MSU) in 2009 to initiate research into habitat utilization by Mississippi Black Bears. Research will focus on habitat selections regarding foods, travel corridors, and den selections for bears throughout the state.
Biologists have collected telemetry data on 32 individual bears since 2004. MDWFP and MSU are currently monitoring 19 radio-collared bears and have downloaded in excess of 20,000 GPS locations from collars retrieved through recaptures, den checks, or collar releases. These collars have provided a wealth of information about bear movements and selections that would have been otherwise unknown. The collars also show preferences for den selection and allow biologists to document the birth of bear cubs from year to year.
In 2006, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the BBCC, and Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) initiated a cooperative research effort to better identify the current distribution and demographics of black bears in the eastern portion of Texas, and to define habitat suitability for black bears in the region.
Phase I of the project examined a 23,500 square kilometer focal area in the Red, Sulpher, and Cypress basins of northeastern Texas. Tim Siegmund, under the direction of Dr. Chris Comer at SFASU, identified contiguous forested habitats greater than 25 square kilometers using satellite imagery, and conducted hair snare sampling to determine occupancy and demographics in selected blocks totaling 820 square kilometers. The project also established randomly located vegetation plots to determine habitat suitability using an accepted index model. Over two 16-week filed seasons in 2007 and 2008, the project monitored hair snares for 9,611 trap nights at 323 locations and collected data at 786 vegetation plots.
The hair snare results show at least one male bear in the focal area. Habitat suitability modeling showed that overall habitat quality is high and capable of supporting bears. Human factors such as road density and potential conflict areas and, to a lesser extent, availability of mature to over-mature hardwood stands appeared to be the most significant limiting factors. Factors such as summer food production and cover were excellent throughout the region. The best quality habitat areas appear to be in north-central Red River County, and near the confluence of White Oak Creek and the Sulphur River.
Phase II of the distribution and suitability research project began in 2009. The study area for this phase of the project is roughly bounded by the Texas/Louisiana border to the east, U.S. Highway 69 and the western border of Hardin County to the west, U.S. Interstate 10 to the south, and the northern border of Shelby County to the north. The focus within this area will be the Angelina and Sabine National Forests, Big Thicket National Preserve, and a mix of private timber company land and state land interspersed throughout the study area.
The current goal is to identify relatively undisturbed habitats 50,000 acres in size, capable of maintaining a minimum viable population of 50 to 90 bears, and exhibiting relatively consistent property ownership (Garner 1994). The proposed study area encompasses slightly more than 1 million hectares within the south black bear recovery zone. Digital satellite imagery and a digital habitat/land cover map for east Texas have been provided by the TPWD. Survey areas have been identified and mapped using ArcGIS 9.3 with the assistance of state and federal employees and private timber company managers to sample in areas with histories of multiple bear sightings. Dr. Comer and graduate student Dan Kaminski anticipate surveying between 50 and 80 thousand hectares over three seasons. They will sample approximately 500 randomly located vegetation plots within 25 land cover classes to verify remotely sensed data and to determine suitability for black bears. This will result in a region-wide habitat suitability model that can be used for long-term planning efforts, available in 2011.
Concurrently with this project, SFASU and TPWD conducted a follow-up stakeholder attitude assessment in northeastern Texas (Red River, Cass, Bowie, Titus, and Franklin Counties). The objective was to assess public knowledge, opinions and attitudes of stakeholders related to black bears, management of particular species and their habitats. Surveys were mailed to 2,000 households during 2006. Graduate student Adam Keule conducted this study under the direction of Dr. Pat Stephens Williams at SFASU. More than half of respondents indicated they favored bears dispersing on their own, but did not support agency intervention to reintroduce them. Respondents worried about problems that may arise from bears re-inhabiting the region. The results of this survey will be useful in identifying areas of potential conflict and employing public information and education campaigns to encourage a public more receptive of black bears and management efforts. This project has recently been extended to include households in areas of Louisiana currently inhabited by black bears for comparison purposes. Results should be available in 2011.