Bear numbers on the rise, still endangered in Miss

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Just two months after a video was taken of a black bear on East Canal Street in Picayune, local resident Johnny Lloyd Smith saw a bear on his land off Dupont-Harts Chapel Road.

Smith took casts of the tracks the bear left behind as evidence.

While not federally endangered, black bears are endangered within the state of Mississippi, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Black Bear Program Leader Richard Rummel said. While the numbers of these bears are on the rise, there are still only about 200 in the state.

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Rummel said the Department tracks the bears in West-Central Mississippi by baiting, catching and fitting female bears with radar collars. He said the focus is on areas where females will likely be with cubs. Males do a lot of wandering, so it is more important to keep track of the mothers to study the population, he said.

At the moment, the Department is specifically targeting bears in Claiborne County, after a trail camera caught sight of a female bear with three cubs. Although MDWFP isn’t trapping bears in Pearl River County, Rummel said he still encourages people to report sightings online to help the Department track their movement and population figures without having to expend valuable resources.

While it’s exciting that the bears are making a comeback in this area, Rummel said that since there have been so few for so long, many people don’t know how to deal with them. He said they often receive calls from people concerned about a bear being in their yard or getting upset that one rummaged through their garbage. Bears tend to follow their noses – so they will go to food. This means that they will often eat out of deer feeders, bird feeders and garbage cans, he said.

“It’s all about managing attractions. What’s happening right now is that a lot of people are using deer feeders, which are like big bowls of donuts for them,” he said.

If a resident begins to notice a bear eating out of trash cans and feeders, Rummel recommends removing that source of food. After a few days the bear will find that its food source is gone and look for something else, he said.

“Bears are back on the landscape again, so we need to learn how to live with them,” Rummel said.

Rummel also warned against getting too close to a bear. It is okay to take a photo or video, but don’t try to get too close or corner it. Bears are usually peaceful, but will act out in self-defense, he said.

If there is a bear-related emergency, the MDWFP’s 24-hour hotline can be called at 1-800-BE-SMART. Or people can report sightings at the Department’s website in the black bear section.