The Louisiana black bear will be removed from the Endangered Species List during a ceremony next week, ending a long road to recovery that started in 1992 with the recognition that the population decline was largely due to a loss of habitat.
U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will be in Louisiana next week for a ceremony to formally delist the bear, which joins other recovery success stories in the state, including the brown pelican, American alligator and bald eagle.
Listed in 1992 as threatened, the Louisiana black bear has made a comeback from an estimated 80 to 120 bears in 1959 to estimates today that range from 500 to 750.
Because one of the main reasons for the bear’s decline in population was the loss of habitat from agriculture and other human development, there was a concerted effort made to start connecting land where the bears were known to live by getting landowners involved.
The nonprofit Black Bear Conservation Coalition, Louisiana Forestry Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service and many other groups worked to preserve habitat while allowing logging to continue in the bear’s normal ranges.
In addition, from 1964 to 1967, there was a relocation of 161 bears from Minnesota to Louisiana, and then between 2001 and 2009, the state relocated 47 mother bears and their 104 cubs from the Tensas River basin to other areas of the state.
On May 20, federal, state and conservation partners gathered at the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge to announce the proposed delisting of the Louisiana black bear. After meetings and acceptance of public comment, it appears that time has arrived as the announcement is expected to be made.
Delisting doesn’t mean all work on the species stops, because federal and state agencies are required to monitor the Louisiana black bear for at least five years to make sure the population remains stable without the additional federal protection.
However, not everyone believes the bear is ready to be taken out from under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
“It’s all politics, in my opinion,” said Paul Davidson, executive director of the Black Bear Conservation Coalition. “What is going on in the grand scale is with a Republican House and Senate, there will be attacks on a lot of environmental acts. So, they’re pressured to show some successes.”
He said not all aspects of the recovery plan developed in 1995 have been fulfilled and just having 1 percent of the historic population living on 2 percent of the historic range is not enough.
“That hardly constitutes recovery,” Davidson said.
There are some bright sides, he said, because the removal from the endangered species list means that it is possible to re-establish Louisiana black bears in eastern Texas through relocation or other methods, which would not have been permitted while listed.
Also, he said, there is a new administration at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries replacing one that Davidson said left him out of black bear recovery discussions during the past few years.
The Louisiana black bear gained fame through a President Teddy Roosevelt hunting trip to Mississippi. Without much hunting luck, one of the guides found an old black bear and tied it to a tree, but Roosevelt said shooting it would be unsportsmanlike. The bear was let go, leading to a cartoon of the incident, which eventually became the “teddy bear” familiar to most young children.
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