Researchers: Missouri’s black bear population growing

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — An ongoing research project by the Missouri Department of Conservation has found that the state’s black bear population is growing.

Researcher Laura Conlee told the Springfield News-Leader that Missouri has seen high survival rates for female bears, which leads to population growth. She says reported bear sightings are also increasing.

Most black bears are spotted south of Interstate 44, though the population seems to be expanding into the Lake of the Ozarks area near Farmington, said Conlee. There’s also a significant cluster known to be living near where Webster, Wright and Douglas counties connect.

The conservation department is still collecting data, but a 2012 estimation of 350 bears in the state seems consistent with the current findings, said Conlee.

“We’ll visit bear dens next year to see how many cubs survived, but it does appear the bear population is doing what we expect it to be doing,” she said.

The department plans to consider establishing a limited bear-hunting season when the confirmed population reaches 500 bears, Conlee said. The formal population number will be determined when the study completes in 2021, she said.

Conlee cautioned that human-bear interactions are more likely, so property owners, hikers and anyone outdoors in bear’s habitat should be careful.

“Bears have really good memories, and if they find food they’ll remember it,” she said. “If you’re hiking or camping, don’t leave food out at your campsite. Hang it from a tree where a bear can’t reach it.

“If you’re backpacking, don’t cook in the same clothes you sleep in. The scent of food can linger on clothes and bears can smell it. Don’t leave cooking scraps out or bring food in your tent. A bear’s sense of smell is way better than a dog’s.”

She also suggested keeping garbage cans covered and avoiding keeping pets outside.

The state conservation agency is updating its black bear research website so that residents can access more information on Missouri’s native black bear population. An interactive story map will launch this spring.

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