Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Black bear population continues to grow in northeast Alabama

AUBURN, Ala. — An Auburn University study shows the black bear population has grown in northeast Alabama.

The Alabama black bear population has more than doubled in the past four years, said Todd Steury of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. He said the bears migrated from north Georgia.

“One interesting aspect we observed is that mother bears in north Alabama often have three or four cubs in a litter,” he said. “Normally a mother bear has only two cubs.”

The state has two areas with bear populations with an estimated 30 bears around Little River Canyon near Fort Payne and an estimated 85 bears in Mobile and north of the city, The Opelika-Auburn News reports .

However, the number of bears could be as high as 165 near the Mobile area.

The study was conducted by Steury and graduate students Christopher Seals and John Draper. The research team strapped radio collars on 20 bears in the two populations and received location information from the internet every hour for a year.

The researchers collected DNA samples from hair left on more than 300 hair snares placed in bear habitats. They found and collected bear scat using Auburn’s EcoDogs program; using game cameras; and tracking bears with radio collars.

“We got over 1,000 DNA samples,” Steury said.

Several groups pitched in. Munford High School students helped gather information in Talladega National Forest, the National Park Service assisted in Little River Canyon National Preserve and the Birmingham Zoo helped with capturing bears in north Alabama.

The study was funded primarily by the State Wildlife Grants program from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Steury said the population growth rate of bears in Mobile is currently unknown. He said the population is continuous with bears in eastern Mississippi. He said the largest bear collared weighed 318 pounds while more were around 150 to 250 pounds.

“Male bears roam widely,” he said. “At two years old, they leave their mother and find a new place to live. Females settle close to the mother bear and expand their range slowly, thus the area occupied by the breeding population is slow to expand. A lot of females don’t cross roads or power line right of ways. Males will cross them as well as rivers.”

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