In 2005, Texas Parks and Wildlife adopted the East Texas Black Bear Conservation and Management Plan which provides an outline for black bear ecology, habitat requirements, and management procedures to be implemented within a 10 year span. Following the publication, two separate studies were conducted within the designated prime habitat areas of southeast and northeast Texas respectively to determine the public perception of black bears and their reemergence in the area.
Because there is currently no sustainable breeding population of Louisiana black bear in East Texas, most research has focused on the requirements of black bear habitat and habitat availability within the area. Viable areas of habitat capable of sustaining a bear population have been identified by separate studies utilizing the Habitat Suitability Analysis. Through these studies, Approximately one million acres of forestland scattered in East Texas has been scientifically identified as suitable habitat for bears. This is 7.9 % of the 13 million acre total of all forests in East Texas. This one million acres can sustain a small, viable population of black bears. Currently, Stephen F. Austin State University is conducting research to determine the habitat corridors these recolonizing bears could use. Read more about this research here.
Core recovery units within the Southeast Texas recovery zone identified by Dan Kaminski's 2011 habitat suitability analysis.
Core Northeast Texas recovery units identified by Tim Siegmund's 2009 research.
West Texas Research
Like much of the state, West Texas was once home to an abundant population of black bears. According the Sul Ross’ Borderlands Research Institute , the species historically inhabited the Davis, Del Norte, Glass, Santiago, Chinati, Guadalupe, Chisos and Vieja mountain ranges. Unregulated hunting, habitat loss, and predator control led to their extirpation in the region by 1950. In the 1980s, sightings in Big Bend National Park began to increase – the first indicators of a naturally recolonizing population. In fact, Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine celebrated the return of one of the first recolonizing female black bears using the prose of science writer Emily Willingham.
To gain a better understanding of potential distribution on black bears in West Texas, Sul Ross University's Borderlands Research Institute developed computer models that utilized telemetry data from previous studies conducted in Big Bend National Park and Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. Taking elevation, climate, vegetation, and soil maps into consideration, researchers developed two models predicting black bear distribution in the Trans-Pecos region as well as within the bordering area of Mexico. These habitat suitability studies, like the ones conducted in East Texas, will aid wildlife managers in developing future plans for habitat conservation and outreach.
The Borderlands Research Institute located at Sul Ross University has conducted multiple other research studies that may be viewed here.
Potential black bear distribution model for the Texas – Mexico border.
Potential black bear distribution model for the Trans-Pecos region of west Texas.
Black Bears and Human Interaction
Approximately 36,000 people in the U.S. are bitten annually by wildlife. Annual bites sustained by black bears rank 5th behind rodents, venomous snakes, skunks, and foxes respectively.
The majority of conflicts that occur between bears and humans occur as a result of the animal’s search for food. There is a direct correlation between increase in nuisance bear activities and years in which there is a shortage of natural food sources (such as in years of drought). As much as 80% of the bear nuisance calls in Arkansas are unfounded, and the result of a bear that is causing no harm. The remaining nuisance reports are almost always the outcome of inadequate food and/or garbage storage by humans.
Human conflict with bears continues to be a growing concern as urban and suburban sprawl continues to envelop the remaining fragments of suitable bear habitat. Human encroachment leads to bear habituation, and because they are intelligent, opportunistic omnivores, they become attracted to and take advantage of unnatural, anthropomorphic foods. This attraction to anthropomorphic foods, called food-conditioning, inevitably leads to human/bear conflict. Food-conditioned bears are far more likely to cause property damage. It also appears that food conditioned bears transfer behaviors such as human intimidation techniques and/or breaking and entering to access anthropomorphic foods to subsequent generations.