Be Bear Wise in Missouri? Yes!

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 6, 2010

Black Bear

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large wild animals, and they’re strong, unpredictable and never tame.

Black Bears in Missouri

Some Missourians are unaware that we have bears in the state, but we do. Bears were once common throughout most of Missouri. However, settlement of the state brought widespread habitat changes as well as unregulated bear hunting, and it almost wiped them out. By the 1840s, black bears had become rare in north Missouri, and by the 1890s, they were thought to be almost eliminated from the Ozarks. A few bear sightings were recorded into the 1950s, and it was generally believed that some bears might have remained in portions of the Ozarks.

Between 1959 and 1967, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission released 254 black bears in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains of western Arkansas. Their population now numbers around 3,000 to 3,500 bears, and Arkansas has held annual hunting seasons since 1980. Some of the offspring from the bear population in Arkansas probably wander into Missouri, especially the young males.

Missouri’s black bear population is slowly increasing in our Ozarks, and somewhere between 300 and 500 bears are scattered over a wide area of southern Missouri. While we have documented several reproducing females, the population seems to be heavily dominated by young males. If you were to draw a line along Highway I-44 from St. Louis to near Joplin, 90 percent of the bears exist south of that line.

There are roughly 3 million acres of good black bear habitat in Missouri. Although our oak woodlands provide excellent fall foods, primarily acorns, not much would be considered “excellent” habitat due to numerous roads and fairly gentle terrain. Forest clearings and wise logging operations do help improve bear habitat by providing forage and berries in the spring and summer. Insects are also important summer bear foods.

It’s a Bear’s Life

Named after their predominate color phase, black bears may also be brown, tan or cinnamon colored. Sometimes, because of their color variations, black bears are also referred to as cinnamon bears and honey bears. All of the bears in Missouri, regardless of color, are black bears (Ursus americanus).

Black bears breed in summer when food is abundant, but don’t give birth until in their dens. Bears typically go to their dens in November and emerge by April. Bear dens can consist of a hole in a rock bluff, a hollow tree, an excavation under an overturned tree,

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