The adult population of Louisiana black bears in the Atchafalaya Basin seems to have survived the recent flooding with only one casualty, wildlife officials said this week.
Federal and state wildlife officials and conservation groups have been working for several years to rebuild the population of Louisiana black bears, a threatened species that makes its home in the Tensas and Atchafalaya river basins.
One of the core areas for bears in the Atchafalaya Basin — Pointe Coupee, Iberville and St. Martin parishes — was heavily flooded after the Morganza Spillway was opened last month to relieve pressure from the swollen Mississippi River.
The only known flood-related death of an adult bear happened when a train struck an animal that had sought refuge on an elevated track running though the Basin east of Melville, said Fred Kimmel, assistant administrator for the wildlife division with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
“We were pretty fortunate,” Kimmel said. “… What we may have had, and we don’t have any feel for it, we might have had some cub loss.”
He said that wildlife officials were also surprised that bears fleeing the flood water did not seem to create many nuisance problems for the populated areas that skirt the basin.
“They just kind of found a patch of woods and laid low,” Kimmel said.
He said many of the bears never seemed to have left the Basin, despite the high water.
“There was by no means a mass exodus of bears. We were getting daily reports from our staff: a bear here, a bear there,” Kimmel said.
The animals can live for weeks up a tree, he said.
“They are pretty strong swimmers, so they can get out and forage and come back,” Kimmel said.
He said there were even a few surprising observations of bears swimming back into the swamp after initially leaving when water began rising.
“What they were doing, I don’t know,” he said, speculating that the animals were possibly returning to check on cubs.
Few problems are expected for the bears now that the water is receding.
“Their habitat is back and they’ll function fine,” Kimmel said.
State wildlife officials are still assessing the impact to other wildlife in the basin, particularly deer.
“The deer population was not decimated by any means, but there is some loss,” Kimmel said.
He said Wildlife and Fisheries is still determining whether the upcoming deer season needs to be modified to allow the population to rebound.