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In the early 1900s black bears were nearly eliminated from Missouri until reintroduction efforts in the 1960s led to population increases across the southern portion of the state. Today, there is an estimated population size between 250 to 300 individual black bears within the known breeding range. Black bears have been documented throughout the Ozark Highland Plateau and human-bear conflict is an increasing concern for wildlife managers. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and Mississippi State University studied the expansion patterns of black bears and the potential impacts expansion has on the number of human-bear conflicts.
The study used historical occurrence data and forest cover to characterize broad patterns of black bear re-colonization. Researchers estimated the bear population and analyzed bear incident reports to understand their distribution, frequency, and type of incident occurrence over time. Statewide public bear occurrence data from 1989 to 2010 was obtained through MDC’s “Report a Bear Sighting system.” It was used to examine current distribution and potential range expansion of bears throughout Missouri.
Data collected during this study suggests the overall population size is likely less than the 500 individuals, the population size considered necessary to implement a harvest season. Final reports show the spatial distribution of black bear occurrences, both adults and dependent young, closely reflect the distribution of forest cover. Bears, likely from Arkansas, have contributed to the distribution of bears throughout Missouri. The current distribution of dependent young suggests reproducing bears primarily occur in the Ozark Highlands, reinforcing the possibility of bears expanding northward from Arkansas. Further observation is needed.
The information gathered to date is basic, but important. Information on statewide bear occurrences and human–bear incident patterns will be useful for establishing future research and management plans in Missouri. As black bears in Missouri continue to re-colonize their historical range, understanding large-scale spatial and temporal changes in their distribution and interactions with humans will help managers better assess research and management objectives.
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