Arkansas Black Bear Population Rising After Near Extinction

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.(KARK) -  It's that time of year when more Arkansans are looking outside their windows, and they may be greeted by an unwelcome, unfamiliar guest: the black bear.

The black bears’ growth in population since the late 50's is considered to be one of the greatest reintroductions of a large carnivore species in the history of the United States.

Myron Means is a man with quite the job description.

"I'm the Large Carnivore Program Coordinator for Arkansas Game and Fish," said Means.

What he studies is just about as big as his title, as Means is known as "The Bear Guy."

"I've been working with bears in Arkansas for over 20 years," Means said.

His many studies and data have helped the Black Bear population amplify in Arkansas. This is similar to hundreds of years ago when bears were bountiful in the state, which helped to bring along a unique nickname to accompany the Natural state….

  "Arkansas was unofficially known as ‘The Bear State,’" Means said.

But over-hunting diminished the bear population quickly. 

"They thought we may have had 50 bears left in the state," said Means.

The state legislature went into action to slow the exponential decrease in the population, by putting a halt to bear hunting in Arkansas.

In the late 50's, the state released Black Bears back into the habitat and the population flourished.

"To this day the reintroduction effort is still considered the most successful reintroduction of a large carnivore in history, not just Arkansas and the U.S., but in the world," said Means.

Currently, there are about 5,000 Black Bears in Arkansas, which has allotted a bear hunting season throughout nearly the entire state, although two main regions are still missing out.

  "I'm hoping that before I retire we have a bear season in south central and southeastern Arkansas."

During the Spring, Means says many people notice bears in backyards or just wondering the neighborhood.

"It's like a young teenager out on their own. They kind of get into trouble, they don't mean to, but they get into trouble because they don't know any better," Means said.

He says they aren't dangerous, but they are a nuisance.

  "They wonder and wonder and they don't have an established home range and they are just trying to find a place where they can find food and where they don't get picked on by other bears," Means said.

Nuisances or not,  he says it's good to see the population strive again and make Arkansas not only the Natural State but the Bear State as well.

The state of Arkansas has just had its 36th bear season. State officials say they will soon start studying the bear population in south central and southeastern Arkansas in hopes of opening a bear season there in the near future.


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