The American black bear is one of the most widely distributed bear species in the world. Historically, the American black bear's range spanned from Alaska and northern Canada, throughout the United States, into northern Mexico. Widespread habitat loss, fragmentation, and unregulated hunting has led to a reduction in population and a range that covers only 62% of its original span in the contiguous United States. This reduction is especially evident in the southern portion of the U.S. where over 90% of the American black bear’s range has been lost.
Four of the sixteen subspecies of black bear once roamed the state of Texas. The Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) was native to East Texas, while the American black bear (U. americanus) was found in Central to North Texas, and the Mexican (U. americanus eremicus) and New Mexican black bear (U. americanus amblyceps) were found in West Texas.
The late 19th century saw a drastic decline of populations across Texas, and by the advent of the twentieth century, black bears were considered rare throughout the state.
In the case of the Louisiana black bear, population decline can be attributed to loss of up to 80% of their native range through habitat loss and property fragmentation, as well as unregulated sport hunting which boomed after industries such as timber and oil replaced subsistence agriculture as a means of survival in Texas. In 2016, the subspecies was removed from the federal list of Threatened and Endangered Species thanks to the collaborative efforts of multiple organizations in Louisiana and Mississippi. Visit the Black Bear Conservation Coalition and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to learn more about these efforts.
Black bear range in 1890.
Black bear range in 1910.
Black bear range in 1940.
Uncle Bud Bracken, famed hunter of the Big Thicket, with a recent kill.
A black bear killed in San Augustine County, early 1960s.
Texas historical marker in Nacogdoches highlighting the meal served to the volunteer regiment of New Orleans' Greys by Adolphus Sterne as they traveled to San Antonio to fight in the battle of Texas Independence. The centerpiece of the feast was locally harvested black bear.