Black bears return to Missouri indicates healthy forests

July 19, 2013
he black bear, Ursus americanus, has returned to Missouri, according to Lori Eggert, associate professor of biological sciences in the University of Missouri’s College of Arts and Science. Credit: Mike Bender/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For nearly a century, the only bears known to reside in Missouri were on the state flag or in captivity. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss had wiped out most black bears in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma by the 1920s. Now, thanks to a reintroduction program in Arkansas during the 50s and 60s, hundreds of bears amble through the forests of southern Missouri, according to a joint study by University of Missouri, Mississippi State University, and Missouri Department of Conservation biologists, who warn that although the bear population is still small, outdoor recreationists and homeowners should take precautions in the Ozark forest to avoid attracting bears.

"Black bears normally do not attack humans, but they will ransack picnic baskets, tear through garbage bags or even enter buildings looking for food," said Lori Eggert, associate professor of biological sciences in MU's College of Arts and Science. "Although some Missourians may be concerned, the return of to Missouri is actually a good sign. It means parts of the state's forests are returning to a healthy biological balance after nearly two centuries of intensive logging and exploitation."

Eggert and her colleagues used the genetic fingerprints of bears in Missouri to trace their origin back to Arkansas, where thousands of bears now roam. The majority of these animals appear to be descendents of bears originally reintroduced to the region from populations in Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada. Surprisingly, some of the Missouri bears analyzed by Eggert's team had genetic signatures that suggested they were not descended from the northern bears. Further testing may prove that a tiny of bears managed to survive unnoticed in the Ozark wilderness after the rest of the region's population had died out.

"The larger the of bears in the region, the healthier the population will be as it recovers," said Eggert. "If they do indeed exist, these remnant populations of black bears may serve as valuable reservoirs of genetic diversity."

If the Missouri population recovers sufficiently, officials someday may allow human hunters to stalk the Show-Me-State's black bears, noted Eggert. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission allows limited bear hunting in October and November.

Explore further: Researchers to study the status of black bears in Missouri

Related Stories

Researchers to study the status of black bears in Missouri

June 13, 2007

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia are studying the status of black bears in Missouri. Black bears were abundant in the state during the 18th and 19th centuries, but have been considered almost extinct in ...

Pet bears to be returned to wild in Vietnam

March 5, 2012

Seven Asiatic black bears kept as pets in small cages will be prepared for a return to the wild in Vietnam after their owner decided they were too big for captivity, an official said Monday.

Estonian brown bears head west

November 23, 2012

Estonia's thriving brown bear population has spread nationwide after hunters eased up in their traditional territory, an expert in the Baltic state said Friday.

Recommended for you

Male seahorse and human pregnancies remarkably alike

September 1, 2015

Their pregnancies are carried by the males but, when it comes to breeding, seahorses have more in common with humans than previously thought, new research from the University of Sydney reveals.

Parasitized bees are self-medicating in the wild, study finds

September 1, 2015

Bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, a Dartmouth-led study shows. The findings suggest that plant chemistry could help combat the decline ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.