Where are Missouri's black bears coming from?
My sister-in-law Donna, who lives in Kansas City, MO, sent us an interesting newspaper clipping about black bears in Missouri. I can't find an exact duplicate of the article online, but a slightly abbreviated version of it is still posted at the St. Louis Post Dispatch: "Missouri Counts Its Black Bears."
The gist of the article is that Missouri doesn't know how many black bears it has or where they are coming from. Missouri's biologists aren't sure if the state's black bears are Arkansas-born bears who have traveled north, or if Missouri now has a bear population that is reproducing.
To help learn where Missouri's black bears are from, biologists are setting up bait stations, Barbed wire will snag a few hairs of any bear who ventures in. DNA testing of the hairs will determine the sex of the bears and their relationship to the Arkansas bears.
According to the article, black bears in both Missouri and Arkansas had been exterminated by the early 1900's. During the 1950's, Arkansas imported bears from Minnesota. The Arkansas black bear population is now estimated to be 3500, and the Missouri population may be as many as 350.
Areas of Missouri mentioned in the article as places where bears have been seen include:
- southwestern Missouri counties
- eastern Ozarks along the Current River
- St. Louis area including southern Jefferson County
- Hurley, Billings, Republic and Nixa in southwest Missouri
- Christian County, Missouri
My parents lived in Hickory County, MO, about 50 miles north of Springfield, from the early 1970's through the mid-1980's. Some of their land was rough, rocky, forested hills, part of a long stretch of mostly rough, mostly tree-covered land that extended for many miles.
My father once told me that he had seen an animal that had to be a bear. There was no other animal that it could have been, he said. There were always rumors about "cinnamon bears" in the area. (Cinnamon bears are a lighter-colored subspecies of black bears.) However, the bear my father saw was dark in color.
Black bears were also native to Kentucky (and most of the United States, except for the most arid regions of the American Southwest.) Nowadays, most bear sightings in Kentucky occur in the eastern part of the state, near borders with Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee.
Like Missouri, Kentucky really doesn't know how many black bears live within the state, but the population seems to be increasing.
Black bear images in this post are courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The artist is Robert Savannah.