Black bear may be removed from protected species list

Is 'threatened species' becoming a 'threatening species'?

By Raymond L. Daye

     International news events such as young adult male bears that took up residence in trees in Belledeau and Marksville earlier this month, and a mama bear and cubs walking the street in Cottonport that forced the temporary lockdown of schools earlier this year, have started conversations in the parish about whether the black bear may have gone from being a “threatened” species to being a “threatening” species.
     State and federal wildlife agencies are also talking about removing the Louisiana black bear from the endangered species list.
     Federal, state and private wildlife conservation efforts have brought the bear back from the brink of extinction. The bear population in the state was once under 100. There are now an estimated 350-600 bears north of I-10 and 750-1000 south of I-10.
     After reports of bears visiting Avoyelles Parish communities appeared in news media as far away as Belfast, Northern Ireland, the move to take action is becoming more focused. The Associated Press picked up the  Avoyelles Parish story and sent the news around the world.
     Steve Guertin, deputy director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said the department will make a formal proposal to remove the black bear from the list of threatened animals -- a process called “delisting.” That process can take at least a year.
     Once that occurs, hunters would be allowed to kill a few bears each year in a wildlife management plan similar to the one implemented for the alligator, which was removed from the endangered species list in 1987.
     Harold Schoeffler, chairman of the Acadiana Chapter of the  Sierra Club, said officials should do more study before before making a decision to seek delisting of the black bear. The Sierra Club might file suit to block a move to delist the bear until its population is more firmly established. He said he would like to see the bear reintroduced into other areas of its former range in Texas and Mississippi.  The bear is now located in four areas in Louisiana with a few in south Arkansas and west Mississippi.
     Ray Bordelon, long-time member and past president of the Avoyelles Wildlife Federation, said he heard last month that the federal wildlife agency was recommending delisting the black bear.
     “There are mixed emotions about that,” Bordelon said. “I personally would hate to see them taken off the list at this time.”
     Bordelon said that even with the bear protected by state and federal laws that impose hefty fines and result in vigorous prosecution of offenders, bears were killed by those who claimed they were a “nuisance.”
    Beekeepers have had problems with bears in recent years who, like Winnie the Pooh, love honey.
    “There have been horror stories from camp owners who have reported bears tearing things up in camps,” he said.
    He said there are those who want the bear delisted so a hunting season can be opened. That probably won’t happen for several years after the animal is no longer deemed “threatened.”
     “When a season is opened, it will be highly controlled,” Bordelon said, “like they did with the alligator. It will probably be lottery hunts.”
     Bordelon said the recent incidents raised people’s concerns about bears because it brought home the fact that, especially in this part of the state, human communities are never very far from bear habitat. And, unlike the toy that was inspired by the animal, the black bear is scary even when it doesn’t mean to be and is fully equipped “to take care of business” if it has to.
    The local variety of bear is a sub-species of black bear and is best known for being the inspiration for every child’s favorite bedtime friend -- the Teddy bear. That occurred in 1902, when President Teddy Roosevelt was hunting the black bear in Mississippi when he refused to shoot a bear that had been roped and tied to a tree. The bear was also hunted in Louisiana.
    Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot the bear was immortalized by Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman.
   The black bear was known as “Teddy’s bear,” and then as a Teddy bear. Stuffed animals modeled after the cartoon were manufactured and soon became popular with the nation’s children.
    A part of the Teddy bear story that usually goes untold is that the bear ended up roped and tied because it was killing one of the hunting party hounds. The dogs jumped on the bear and the bear carried one of them into the water. The hunting guide clubbed the bear with his rifle, put a lariat around it and tied it to a tree.