Bear news from Benton County

News from the region
Kansas City
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Lincoln, Mo. -- A black bear confirmed in Benton County on Tuesday, June 25, could be the same one that has been on a path through Barton, Vernon and Bates counties in recent weeks. The bear was in brush near a field beside Route C about five miles west of Lincoln. A citizen notified Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC ) Agent David Harms about the bear. Agent Harms responded, confirmed the sighting, and took some distant photos. 

Black bears are typically found in forested, southern Missouri counties. They are unusual in west central Missouri. The bear could be a young male, said Jeff Beringer, a resource scientist for MDC. Beringer is leading a black bear study in Missouri to determine their numbers and range. Young males will disperse from their home territories. But they usually keep moving until they find habitat with female bears.

Some bears trapped and then outfitted with radio tracking collars for the MDC study have started north but always returned south, he said. A few bears in past years did wander into north Missouri and on to Iowa but did not survive. The bear spotted in recent weeks does not have a tracking collar.

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Most bears shy away from people and pose little threat to humans and livestock. They should not be fed. They’re always looking for their next meal and can become a nuisance or even a danger if fed. It is illegal to kill a black bear in Missouri unless protecting human life or personal property.

Black bears are native to Missouri. But they were almost eliminated from the state after settlement in the 1800s and as habitat loss continued in the 1900s. Some bears returned to the state’s southern counties due to a re-introduction in Arkansas that began in the 1950s and their numbers have slowly grown, mostly south of Interstate 44. Biologists have estimated the state’s bear population at from 150 to 300 bears in scattered habitats. But the current study when completed will help develop a more accurate population estimate and give a better idea where most of the state’s reclusive bears live.