Before the current bear study was formally underway, some intriguing data had been discovered in southwest Missouri. Genetic information extracted from hair samples collected on a Webster County farm showed DNA that did not match that of Arkansas bears. This indicated these bears may have been the progeny of a “true” Missouri bear whose descendants had resided in the remote parts of the state and never completely disappeared.
Regardless of what their heritage is, there is no doubt black bears are part of Missouri’s outdoors today. Since 1987, more than 800 bear sightings have been recorded in 91 counties.
Along with the increase in bear sightings have come an increase in the reports of bear problems. Black bears are generally docile creatures. However, they’re inquisitive and intelligent, and that’s what can get them into trouble.
Like any wild animal, black bears are constantly searching for their next meal. When they are successful at finding food, they remember where it came from. Most problems people have with bears involve the animals raiding campgrounds, garbage bins, bird feeders, orchards and beehives. The trouble can be compounded when bears are purposely fed by people who think they’re helping them survive or are trying to lure them into range for a good photo.
If a bear visits an area and is rewarded with food, it will very likely return. Though they are generally not aggressive, they are powerful and can cause damage to buildings, trailers, vehicles and just about anything else that they view as an obstruction in their search for food.
“We have had an increase in bear/human conflicts in recent years,” Beringer said. “Most conflicts can be prevented if folks do not give bears access to food or garbage.”
As a means of further reducing the chance of bear/human conflicts, information collected in the current study may result in the institution of a limited black bear hunting season. This would give hunters a chance to spice their table fare with bear meat and is an example of how good conservation makes Missouri a great place to hunt and fish.
“Hunting is used to maintain bear populations at levels that are compatible with humans and to reduce nuisance conflicts when necessary,” Beringer said. “Most road-killed bears and problem bears are young males. Hunting can be geared to remove a few of the males so that a population can continue to grow, but conflicts with humans are minimized.”
The current bear research project provides an opportunity to improve our understanding of the biology and behavior of a unique species, to support Missourians’ desire to conserve a wide range of wildlife species, and also to reduce potential nuisance issues.
“While there are many good reasons to learn more about a growing wildlife population,” said Department of Conservation Wildlife Division Chief DeeCee Darrow, “one important reason is that when we know more about bear habits and bear movements in Missouri, we should be able to provide better information to citizens and to work more effectively with landowners who have bear problems. It’s win-win.”