Missouri Black Bear Research Project: Keeping the Black Bear Safe and Wild

Mar 17, 2017

I’m here with Candice Davis from the Missouri Department of Conservation, and over the past decade she says that the Missouri Department of Conservation has seen a rise in the black bear population, which is giving them the opportunity to do some research. Tell me about it Candice.

So we’ve had the Missouri Black Bear Research Project for several years now, but what we’re currently doing is, bear biologists are out doing black bear den checks. So what this is:  we have female bears that have previously had radio collars put on them so we can find them, and this is the season when they are denned up and hopefully have some cubs. So we want to know about their population numbers and also the health of the bears. So what they do is, they go out and track the bears. They find them in the den, they sedate the mom bear, they measure any cubs, count the cubs of course, measure, weigh them, get some information on their health status. They also examine the mother, see how her collar is, if she needs a new one they put that on them. And it just helps us to know how the bears are doing and helps us keep our count of the bears.


And why is it important that you all keep the count? And tell me what the process is, getting those bears and doing your research.


So one of the things I want to emphasize is, you know, as folks see pictures of the bears and the bear cubs, they look super cute and cuddly. But that’s not what we’re there for. We’re not petting the bers were not naming them or anything like that, they’re being measured and were collecting data. So the biologists are minimizing their interactions with the bears because it’s very important that we keep them wild. So we don’t let them get accustomed to being around humans. So they’re minimizing their contact, they’re getting their information, collecting their data, and then while the mother bear is sedated, they put the cubs back with the mother and let her wake up on her own and recover.

Where was the black bear population before they started kind of, are they migrating? Towards Missouri and the Midwest? Kind of a timeline?

If you go back to look at when bears left Missouri, you’d have to go back all the way to the late 1800s early 1900s and that was over hunting, before we have hunting regulations in place that would’ve caused that. Now where have they come from now? Thats a great question. There is some speculation that some of them have come up from Arkansas, because Arkansas did a repopulation effort with black bears in their state. And we have tested the DNA in our bears, and some of the DNA is true to that. Some of the DNA has also showed that we have bears that are originally specific came from the Missouri Ozarks, so that’s very exciting to see that some of them did survive.

So what can we do to avoid conflicts with bears and keep them in the wild?

There are several things people can do to help keep bears wild, especially if you live in a rural area that’s near some of this continuing forest where bears are, which is the Missouri Ozarks.  And it comes eastern into southeast Missouri also. One thing you can do is, around your home, keep things tidy. If you have pet food, make sure you put that away where bears can’t get to it. Bird seed, put that up high where a bear can’t reach it. Anything that’s good-smelling, a bear’s going to smell it and think that might be a food source. And bears are habitual animals, so if they learn they can get a free meal somewhere, they’re going to return to that free meal, and we don’t want to do that. We have a saying that goes, “a fed bear is a dead bear.” Because if a bear thinks, ‘oh I can come back to this place every day and find an unsecured trash can where there’s a free meal, I’ll come back I’ll come back.’ Well, that’s when humans have conflict with bears and the bear meets its demise. So we want to keep bears wild. The ears are native to our state, they belong here. They’re a great wildlife species to have in our state, and its a compliment to us that they’re here because we have the habitat to support them.

Is there anything else you want to say about the black bear population?

I would also say: as folks are out enjoying the outdoors, it’s getting to be springtime, the weather’s going to be warming up. If you’re out hiking, make some noise do the bears can hear you coming. So you don’t surprise them make some noise clap your hands talk with your friends and help them hear you so they can go in another direction. Another tip is to carry  bear spray.  Bear spray is a great way to make a bear never want to come around a person again. And that will keep them wild.

So you shouldn’t really be scared if you make some noise and let them know you’re there. They’re not out to get people.

No, bears do not want to come around us either. You know, we’re dangerous to them. So as long as they don’t have some idea that they’re going to get a free meal where we are, they’re going to go in the opposite direction. So help encourage that: make some noise, send them  in the opposite direction. And you know if a bear would ever approach you, you just make some noise, you appear big.  If you have a car alarm you can set off, you set that off and you make that bear think you are bad news and it will go in the other direction.

Alright, I think that’s all we really need for today thank you so much for coming in Candice.

Thank you very much for having me.