Missouri Black Bear Population Rising

SPRINGFIELD -- The Missouri Conservation Department says the black bear population is on the rise in the state, and many of them are right here in the Ozarks. 

The Missouri Conservation Department is keeping a close eye on the black bear population over the next year or so through a study they are conducting. 

Its purpose is to track reproduction and survival rates in order to get a better idea of how many black bears we have living among us. 

"Our best estimation is around that 350 mark, maybe a little more. The study as it concludes, in a couple years, we'll know more about that."

To find out how many black bears are in Missouri, Tim Russell, Wildlife Regional Supervisor for the Conservation Department says they have to get up close and personal. He estimates there are about 350 black bears in Missouri. 

"We track the females back to their dens in the winter, sedate them, see how many cubs they've got, track those bears over time to see their longevity," Russell explains.

"We put collars on the bears, they're actually a GPS collar. It also gives off a radio signal that enables us to track bears back to their dens, to find the females so we can observe her, find out her overall health and find out how many cubs she has."  

Much of Missouri's current population started as neighbors to our south. 

"The past three or four decades, the population is slowly being colonized from bears that have moved up from Arkansas," Russell says.  

Now black bears are popping up in several counties across Southwest Missouri. 

"McDonald county, Newton County, Barry, Stone, but especially Taney County, Christian, Ozark, Webster, now even in Dallas County and up in Camden county. Even in parts of Greene County," Russell says, adding that they are on the prowl for food. 

"They are kind of like teenage boys. These young male bears are following their nose and making decisions with their stomach," Russell says. 

Black bears aren't a huge threat as long as they are not antagonized, but it's wise not to do things that attract them. 

"Cat food, dog food, cattle feed -- this time of year it's best to put up that sort of thing. Even people that feed birds can attract bears to your backyard. Get rid of anything that smells," Russell says.  

For those that are thinking about hunting bears, the Missouri Conservation Department has floated the idea of a limited hunting season once the population grows to around 500, but added that their study needs to be completed first before that conversation takes off. 

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