To move from endangered species to a backyard pest — that’s almost a miracle for the Louisiana black bear.
One of our trademarks, the bear that inspired Teddy bears, is no longer an endangered species, according to federal authorities, although some longtime advocates for conservation dispute the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The service’s announcement Wednesday was the initial step in the delisting process, which will be followed by a public comment period and then a final decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If the species is taken off the list, it’s required that the federal and state agencies monitor the species for at least five years to make sure the population is stable without the federal protections.
Hunting of the bears, the trip that brought President Theodore Roosevelt south in 1902, will be very limited, as it should be. The bear population is rising but still is, at best, 1,000 or so by biologists’ estimates.
There are enough of them to have been found recently in yards in St. Tammany Parish and in central Louisiana, the latter one of the bears’ prime habitats in what used to be the immense bottomland hardwood forests of the lower Mississippi River. The bears ranged across Louisiana and into Mississippi.
It was at a Mississippi camp that Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear tied to a tree, a gesture of sportsmanship that was immortalized by a Washington Post cartoonist.
For years, the habitat of the bear and many other Louisiana animals was cut down for wood or for farmland. As few as 100 bears are thought to have been living in the 1950s.
We don’t want to go back to that level, but we are reasonably confident that the plans by federal and state authorities will not allow that to happen. This has been in discussion for a long time. Still, it’s good that the Black Bear Conservation Coalition and other environmental groups will keep a close eye on this new development.
Further, we hope that the state will continue its efforts to expand natural habitats, particularly in the Mississippi Delta.
Among those who deserve credit for the black bear announcement are state and national leaders who have pushed conservation of the woodlands along the big river and its tributaries, including former U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston and the late Gov. David C. Treen, who championed the Tensas wildlife refuges and preservation of the Atchafalaya Basin in the 1980s.
Nor could it have happened without private citizens like Harold Schoeffler, whose legal action prompted the settlement that listed the bear as a threatened species in 1991. He’s not entirely happy with regulators now and will doubtless be heard on this new step.
Teddy Roosevelt was a famous sportsman, and he greatly enjoyed his trips to this region to hunt bears and ducks. But he also championed conservation in the early years of the last century and made it the business of the U.S. government to preserve our natural wonders for future generations.
His heirs in the state and national wildlife and environmental agencies do the day-to-day work that protects species of animals that aren’t as photogenic as Teddy’s bears but are important elements of the ecosystem. One of the proud legacies of the United States is the natural beauty of this state and its peers across the Union. We must see that the environment is passed unimpaired to future generations.