Study counts black bears
FRANKLIN, La. — There may be as many as 750 Louisiana black bears in the state, but hard science has yet to back up that estimate, according to the state’s large carnivore biologist.
Within six months, the state will complete an analysis to determine how close the black bear population is to meeting criteria for being removed from federal classification as a threatened species.
“We will know more about the Louisiana black bear in January of 2014 than we have ever known in the past,” said Maria Davidson, Large Carnivore Program manager for Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries.
Data was presented Tuesday night in Franklin about the coastal black bear population. The study area included 118 sites from Avery Island to Morgan City and was conducted by University of Tennessee graduate student Jesse Troxler during eight weeks each summer from 2010 through 2012.
Troxler’s study on the coastal population compliments two similar studies in Pointe Coupee and Tensas parishes. The information from all three will be combined by a doctoral candidate to answer the question of how well the bear population has recovered.
The coastal population was thought to be as low as 30 bears in 1980, Troxler said. The species was listed as threatened in 1992.
Troxler found, through the use of hair sampling snagged on barbed wire traps in the study area, that there were an average of 138 individual bears in the study area over the three year period. There were 136 in 2010, 120 in 2011 and 158 in 2012. He said the theory as to why the sample population number dropped was likely because of the drought in 2010.
Troxler said there is an 86 percent chance the average bear will survive for one year in the coastal population. The survival rate is lower for males who, by nature, leave their mother’s habitat to avoid inbreeding in the population. The mortality rate is much higher for cubs, Troxler said.
Meanwhile, the growth rate is estimated at 8 percent annually. Troxler estimated there are 0.3 bears per square kilometer in the coastal subpopulation area.
“What we will know, I can’t tell you that because I can’t predict the future. But, we’ll know if recovery is occurring. We’ll know how many bears we have. We’ll know what the population is doing, and we’ll know whether it’s appropriate to move forward with delisting or not,” Davidson said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has said that “delisting” the bears will require at least two groups — one in the Tensas area and the other in the Atchafalaya River Basin — that can survive with a 95 percent probability without protection for 100 years. In addition, protected, forested “corridors” must be created to let them move between those groups.