Louisiana black bear, of teddy bear fame, could get off threatened list, following lead of state signature species alligator, brown pelican _lowres

In this May 17, 2015 photo, a Louisiana Black Bear, sub-species of the black bear that is protected under the Endangered Species Act, climbs on a water oak tree in a neighborhood in Marksville, La. The bear left Monday after getting caught in a trap set by state biologists, then managing to open the door and get back out. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Louisiana animal that inspired the teddy bear is expected to be removed from the protected species list, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bobby Jindal said.

Louisiana black bear conservation will be the subject of what’s described as a major announcement Wednesday by Steve Guertin, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham.

The statement concerns “delisting” the Louisiana black bear, which is now considered threatened, Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Dirmann said.

Removal from the list would let hunters kill at least a few of the bears that inspired plush “Teddy’s bears” after President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a tied-up animal for a hunt trophy in 1902.

Local Sierra Club chairman Harold Schoeffler, whose legal action prompted the settlement that got the subspecies listed as threatened on Dec. 31, 1991, said he’ll challenge any proposal to reclassify the bear.

“I’ll see ‘em in court,” he said.

Paul Davidson, executive director of the Black Bear Conservation Coalition, said he thinks good reason exists to remove the subspecies from the list. But, he said, the conservation plan’s requirements are so vague that lawyers could easily slow the process.

The hitch, he said, would be in a requirement for corridors letting bears, and thus their genes, move between an area west of Baton Rouge and one in northeast Louisiana.

“After putting in 24 years and probably a couple hundred-thousand dollars of my own money to make this work, I’d hate to see it blow up and end in litigation for five years or so,” Davidson said.

If the bears move off the threatened list, they would be the third signature species — after the alligator and brown pelican — to make a federally recognized comeback in Louisiana.

Louisiana black bears are physically the largest of 16 American black bear subspecies, Schoeffler said. Males range from 350 to 600 pounds, overlapping the grizzly bear range of 500 to 800 pounds, he said, and an adult black bear from Colorado “looks like a cub” compared with one from Louisiana.

The population was estimated last year at 450 to 600 animals — possibly as many as 1,000 — up from about 100 in the 1950s.

The bears once ranged throughout Louisiana, southern Mississippi and eastern Texas, but now are found in four areas in Louisiana.

Scientists believe the bear was well in decline when Roosevelt went on what he later described as an exasperating hunt in Sharkey County, Mississippi. After 10 bearless days, the guides tracked down and brought back an exhausted animal — a cub, by some accounts; according to the Theodore Roosevelt Association, an old bear that had been injured by the dogs that tracked it — and tied it to a tree so the president could shoot it and have it mounted. Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman’s drawings depicting Roosevelt’s disgusted refusal, captioned “Drawing the line in Mississippi,” made the episode famous nationwide.

Roosevelt’s great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, will participate Wednesday’s announcement.

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Online:

http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/louisiana-black-bear-history

Theodore Roosevelt Association about teddy bears: http://bit.ly/1oWpyrl