CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- Bear sighting reports are more important than ever to Missouri Conservation Department (MDC) biologists and agents in southeast Missouri. MDC embarked on a cooperative black-bear research effort with the University of Missouri-Columbia and Mississippi State University last year in Missouri’s southwest region. The study, funded through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration program with help from Safari Club International, will bring bear trapping to the southeastern portion of the state this May.
Though black bears were found across Missouri when the first settlers arrived, unregulated hunting and habitat destruction drastically decreased their numbers. By the 1950s, black bears were considered to be extirpated from Missouri.
Arkansas completed a successful bear restoration program in the 1960s and it’s thought that many of the bears we have in Missouri are the outgrowth of that program.
Recent data indicates some bears in southwest Missouri are genetically unique and likely the result of a Missouri bear population that was never completely extirpated, according to MDC biologists.
In past years, MDC biologists conducted some bear monitoring, but the bulk of data obtained from these efforts merely showed spots where bears could be found and revealed little information about their habits and annual life cycles in Missouri. This study will provide further information, such as movement patterns, population densities, habitat preferences, male-to-female ratios and overall numbers of Missouri bears.
Conservation employees met in Ellington recently for training that will prepare them to collect the needed data. According to the training facilitator and wildlife biologist, Scott McWilliams, biologists will use hair snares and barrel traps to trap the bears.
Bears that are trapped will be tranquilized while biologists take 40 measurements and samples, which will include DNA, weight, length and other data. The bears will be radio collared with GPS monitors that will give biologists a means to track their movements.
“We will use pastries to lure bears into traps, which we will monitor daily,” McWilliams said. “We will arrive quickly after a bear enters the trap. Once our measurements are complete, we’ll monitor each bear from a distance to ensure it exits safely.”
McWilliams said the MDC is working with private landowners throughout the study to avoid trapping on public land, which will eliminate conflicts with public land use during the bear trapping process. Landowners within the southeast and Ozark regions who have witnessed bears on their property are encouraged to contact the MDC for possible participation in the study. McWilliams said landowners in the southwest region who participated gained valuable information about resident and transient bears on their properties.
To report a bear sighting or for more information about the bear study, contact your local conservation agent or the MDC’s Southeast Regional Office at 573/290-5730.