Officials announce plans to remove black bear from federal protection _lowres

Photo provided by Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries Louisiana black bear, like the one shown near Morganza three years ago, has grown from fewer than 100 bears 20 years ago to an estimated population of as many 750 in the state. During ceremonies Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was taking the first steps in removing the Louisiana black bear from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife List. This subspecies of black bear is behind the origin of the legend of the famed child's stuffed animal, the Teddy Bear from President Theodore Roosevelt's hunt during the early 1900s in south Louisiana.

Among the many steps in removing the Louisiana black bear from the federal Endangered/Threatened Species List is consideration of a hunting season.

For now, a bear season for Louisiana hunters is a very long step away.

State and federal officials confirmed that Wednesday at the ceremony announcing the start of the “delisting” process for Louisiana’s state mammal during a Wednesday afternoon ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion.

Steve Guertin, the deputy director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Wednesday’s announcement begins at least a one-year process to remove Louisiana’s state mammal from federal protection.

Guertin said the delisting trail begins with a posting of the move to the Federal Register, then months of public comment and document and data review before management and control of this subspecies of black bear can be turned over to the state, notably the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

LDWF secretary Robert Barham said he knows any future steps regarding the black bear in the state will “come under intense scrutiny,” especially when it comes to opening a hunting season.

“First, we have to say there will be no hunting season on the Louisana black bear for the 2015-2016 season. That’s just not going to happen,” Barham said. “This important first step is a milestone because this subspecies is the iconic bear, the real Teddy Bear that has gained attention here and around the world.”

The Louisiana subspecies was made famous after then President Theodore Roosevelt hunted the animal in the wilds of south Louisiana’s canebreaks. When Roosevelt’s hunt made national news, a doll maker asked and received permission from the sitting president to make a stuffed animal that would be called “Teddy Bear.”

“The Louisiana black bear is special even in the bear community. It’s the only black bear subspecies on Threatened and Endangered List, and the fact that the delisting process will begin will father lots of attention across the country,” Barham said.

“Again, the proposal to delist will be scrutinized, but we’re confident the numbers are there and our (management) plan is sound, and we’re confident we will prevail over any questions that might come. We know this will generate controversy.”

The question of setting a hunting season persisted through Wednesday’s announcement.

Paul Davidson, the executive director of the Black Bear Conservation Coalition, and a leader for the past 20 years in private efforts to re-establish and extend the black bear’s domain in the state, said he has his reservations about starting the process.

Davidson cited Barham’s proclamations that he, Barham, would like to see a bear hunting season before he leaves office. Presumably that will happen when a new governor is elected and takes office early in 2016.

“I’m not opposed to (a hunt). I’m opposed to the way they’re doing it,” Davidson said.

Although he supports delisting, Davidson said it’s frustrating that the Endangered Species Act Process would be fast tracked, “to satisfy a politician’s agenda.”

“Barham is old school,” Davidson said. “They think wildlife really doesn’t have value unless you can kill it. A lot of that old-school mentality is still around. In all reality, there are enough bears to allow a limited harvest, but the way they’re going about it is what’s distasteful to me.”

Barham said challenges to other states’ moves to establish bear hunting seasons, notably in Maine, Maryland and most recently in Florida, were resolved in federal courts in favor of those seasons.

“We’ve got a management plan, a plan that went through oversight and was peer reviewed. We went to Joe Clark at the University of Tennessee, a man considered to be the guru of black bear management, and he accepted the plan,” Barham said.

“We have a management plan and when the population numbers show we can, let’s say in the Tensas (basin), a managed hunt will be considered.”

Barham said the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will have the final say in approving any hunting season, and like there is for all hunting seasons, there will be State Legislature oversight.

“At some point (a hunting season for bears) will happen,” Barham said. “I’m not able to predict when that will happen. Obviously not this year, and when it happens we will want to be very conservative.”

Barham said biologists have told him most all animal populations can survive and continue to thrive under a plan that allows hunters to take 10 percent of the population.

“We want to make sure that the time is right, and we want to err on the very conservative side when this department proposes a hunting season,” Barham said. “From the numbers we have, that would indicate 70 bears, but we’re going to start slowly, maybe 20 or 25 bears the first year, then see where that goes.”

He said those first years of hunting the Louisiana black bear would be handled via a lottery draw.