Louisiana black bear could lose 'protected' status

Today is last day to submit comments; growth in Avoyelles area noted as key support for 'delisting'


By Raymond L. Daye
    Time is almost out to submit comments concerning the federal proposal to remove the Louisiana black bear from the “threatened species” list.
    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed May 20 to remove the subspecies of bear from protection under the  Endangered Species Act (ESA), noting the success of state, federal and private efforts to bring the bear back from the brink of extinction.
The growth of the black bear population in the Avoyelles Parish area is a key reason for the FWS decision. The black bear population is now considered “viable” instead of “threatened.”
    The “delisting” follows an ESA-mandated review of all available information concerning the bear’s status.
The FWS held public hearings in Tallulah and Baton Rouge last month to obtain “comments regarding biological data, relevant data concerning any threats, and the extent of federal and state protection and management that would be provided to the bear as a delisted species.”
  Interested parties who missed those meetings have until today to submit written comments on the delisting of the black bear and/or the proposed monitoring plan.
Those comments can be made at  www.regulations.gov through the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Comments should reference FWS-R4-ES-2015-0014.
Listed in 1992
   The Louisiana black bear was placed on the “threatened species” list in 1992 due to loss of habitat and other threats. At that time, there were only three known populations of the bears in the state’s bottom land hardwood forests in the Tensas and the Upper and Lower Atchafalaya river basins.
   FWS said that the bear populations in those original three areas “have all increased in number and have stable to increasing growth rates.”
   It further notes that a fourth viable breeding population between the Tensas and Upper Atchafalaya bears -- the Avoyelles and Concordia area -- “is facilitating movement among the other two subpopulations. This has substantially increased the long-term outlook for the Louisiana black bear.”
  FWS said the acres of suitable habitat has increased from 340,000 to over 1.4 million in 21 parishes and another 382,703 in six Mississippi counties.
   There are approximately 400,000 acres of suitable habitat in the designated Habitat Restoration Plan-ning Area and even more outside of that area  in Louisiana, western Missis-sippi and eastern Texas “to enable further expansion of the Louisiana black bear population.”
Local bear visits
   Area residents in Avoyelles and Catahoula parishes were treated to the sights of young male bears in neighborhood trees earlier this year. The bears in Belledeau, Marksville and Jonesville all escaped without harm back to the wild.
The presence of the large creature so close to humans and their pets and livestock has caused an increased concern over the future of the relationship between bear and man in this parish.
   The incidents also helped support federal wildlife biologists’ comments that the bear was more numerous than previously thought.
A “threatened species” is defined as a one “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” An “endangered species” is one that is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
   The last FWS estimate puts the number of black bears in the state at between 500 and 750, about twice the number when the bear was put on the threatened species list.
   It was declared a threatened species in January 1992 primarily due to a reduction of suitable acres of habitat and the threat of future habitat loss and the likelihood of bears being killed by property owners.
   “An indirect result of habitat fragmentation was isolation of the already small bear subpopulations, which increased their risk associated with such factors as natural population fluctuations and inbreeding,” the FWS said.   
Bears No longer In danger
   The FWS said its “analysis of the best available data” indicates the bear is in no danger of extinction or of becoming endangered within the foreseeable future.
   “The subspecies is now viable over the next 100 years, with sufficient protected habitat to support breeding and exchange between subpopulations,” the FWS said. “Past habitat loss trends have been reversed through a variety of programs and regulations, and there is currently enough suitable habitat to continue expansion and movement between breeding subpopulations.”
   If the “best available data” is wrong, and “ a threat is causing a decline in the status of the Louisiana black bear,” the FWS will review the situation to determine if the bear should be returned to federal protection. In the event of a severe threat, FWS said it could use emergency provisions in the Endangered Species Act.
   The FWS emphasized that if the bear is delisted, it will still be protected by state laws and it will not automatically be legal to hunt or kill bears “causing a nuisance.”
   “If hunting were to be permitted, states would be responsible for initiating and managing any seasons,” FWS said.“You would still need to contact state agencies to resolve nuisance bear issues.” 
   For more information about the proposed delisting of the Louisiana black bear, visit the Service’s websites: fws.gov/lafayette or fws.gov/southeast/.