Louisiana black bear. Credit: Pam McIlhenny, used with permission.
Louisiana Black Bear (Ursus americanus luteolus)
- Taxa: Mammal
- Range: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas
- Status: Recovered
The Louisiana black bear is the state mammal for Louisiana, and it is one of 16 subspecies of the American black bear. While the American black bear can be found across North America, the Louisiana black bear subspecies is only known to occur in Louisiana, East Texas and western Mississippi. Compared to other black bears, the Louisiana black bear's skull is longer, narrower and flatter, with larger molar teeth.
By 1980, more than 80 percent of the Louisiana black bear's habitat had been modified or destroyed, and on January 7, 1992, the bear was listed as threatened within its historic range.
On March 10, 2016 we removed this species from the Lists of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act due to recovery. Recovery was made possible thanks to the active partnerships of many private landowners, state and federal agencies, universities and non-governmental organizations. Since the Louisiana black bear was listed in 1992, voluntary landowner-incentive-based habitat restoration programs and environmental regulations have not only stopped the net loss of forested lands in the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial River Valley, but have resulted in significant habitat gains. A major factor in this positive habitat trend is the success of incentive-based private land restoration programs, such as the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). Since 1992, more than 148,000 acres of habitat have been permanently protected and/or restored through the WRP program. Additional private lands have been restored through the efforts of private landowners and organizations. Over 65,000 additional acres of bottomland hardwood forest have been protected and restored through the efforts of such groups as Wildlife Mississippi, Mississippi Land Trust Mississippi River Trust, Black Bear Conservation Coalition, Bear Education and Restoration Group of Mississippi and the East Texas Black Bear Task Force.
Currently we estimate that between 500 and 750 Louisiana black bears roam the United States, approximately double the population size at the time of listing. We have used techniques such as live trapping, winter den inspections, radio telemetry monitoring, and DNA sampling to determine population size.
News and Events
- March 10, 2016: Louisiana black bear removed from the Lists of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act due to recovery
- May 21, 2015: Secretary Jewell, Governor Jindal Announce Proposal to Remove Louisiana Black Bear from Endangered Species List
The black bear is a large, bulky animal with long black hair and a short, well-haired tail. Their weight can vary considerably, but males may weigh more than 600 pounds. The face is blunt, the eyes small, and the nose pad broad with large nostrils. The muzzle is a yellowish-brown with a white patch sometimes present on the lower throat and chest. Black bears have five toes with short, curved claws on the front and back feet.
The key habitat requirements are food, water, cover, and denning sites located across large, relatively remote blocks of lands. In the Southeast, remoteness is relative to forest size and the presence of roads, as these features reflect the likelihood of human disturbance. In general, the bigger the forest and the fewer the roads, the better the habitat is for bears.
Louisiana black bears typically live in bottomland hardwood forest communities of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. They den in trees or on the ground from December through April. Other habitat types include brackish and freshwater marshes, salt domes, wooded spoil levees along canals and bayous, and agricultural fields.
High quality cover for bedding, denning, and escape is of great importance as forests become smaller, more fragmented, and as human encroachment and disturbance in bear habitat increases.
Although they are classified as carnivores (meat-eaters), black bears are opportunistic omnivores (eaters of plants and animals) since their diet is largely determined by what food they can find. The most readily available food for black bears tends to be high in carbohydrates and low in fat or protein, although they prefer high fat and high protein foods when they can get it. This often comes in the form of the food and garbage of humans.
Black bears spend a lot of their time foraging for food, and the type of plant food eaten largely depends upon the seasons. In the spring and summer black bears may eat dewberries, blackberries, wild grapes, elderberries, persimmon, pawpaw, pokeweed, devils walking stick, thistle, palmetto, and a variety of fruited vines and soft mast producing shrubs. In the fall they eat acorns, pecans, corn, oats, and wheat, and some bears in southern coastal Louisiana have been documented visiting sugar cane fields. They also may occasionally eat animal remains.
The Louisiana black bear once roamed throughout southern Mississippi, all of Louisiana, and eastern Texas. The historic range included all Texas counties east of and including Cass, Marion, Harrison, Upshur, Rusk, Cherokee, Anderson, Leon, Robertson, Burleson, Washington, Lavaca, Victoria, Refugio, and Arkansas; all of Louisiana, and the southern Mississippi counties south of and including Washington, Humphreys, Holmes, Attala, Neshoba, and Lauderdale.
Currently, most Louisiana black bears live within four areas of Louisiana, including:
- St. Mary and Iberia Parishes in south Louisiana,
- Point Coupee Parish in central Louisiana,
- The Richard K. Yancey Wildlife Management Area and nearby in Concordia and Avoyelles Parishes in east-central Louisiana, and
- Tensas, Madison, and West Carroll Parishes in northeast Louisiana.
Bears may be occasionally encountered in other areas within their range, as male bears sometimes wander long distances from the area of their birth. Bears have been sighted in recent years within many parishes throughout Louisiana, as well as in western and southern Mississippi. Public-access lands that provide the best opportunity of potentially seeing a Louisiana black bear include Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge, Richard K. Yancey Wildlife Management Area, Big Lake Wildlife Management Area, and Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. Please consult, and adhere to, the respective public-land regulations prior to accessing those sites.
Southeastern Wildlife Refuges that Provide Habitat
- Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge
- Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge
- Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge**
- Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Central Louisiana Refuges Complex
- Coldwater River National Wildlife Refuge
- Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge
- Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
- St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge
- Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge*
- Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuges Complex
*Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge is managed in consideration of Louisiana black bear needs and is a core area for the bear population. The State of Louisiana's Big Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is adjacent to the refuge and contributes crucial bear habitat.
**Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge is the only refuge whose primary mission is to preserve and manage habitat for the threatened Louisiana black bear.
Efforts Contributing to Conservation
Recovery efforts undertaken since the listing of the Louisiana black bear have included:
- Public involvement through non-profits such as the Black Bear Conservation Committee (BBCC)
- Federal and state actions taken as a result of the Endangered Species Act and the Wetlands Reserve Program of the 1990 Farm Act, and
- Research funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners
- Proactive forest management by many large and small private landowners.
Like all wild animals, bears can die due to both natural and human causes. The most important natural factor regulating Louisiana black bear populations appears to be changes in food supply.
Other natural causes include disease, cannibalism, drowning, maternal care, and climbing accidents. Human activities generally account for most of the impacts to Louisiana black bears. Habitat loss, especially the conversion of forest to croplands, was the biggest threat to the Louisiana black bear at the time of listing. However, through the efforts of many conservation partners, much habitat has been restored and protected. Other activities such as , poaching, vehicle and train collisions, electrocution, depredation/nuisance kills, disturbance during (which may cause den abandonment), and occasional accidents associated with research activities still occur.
In Louisiana and Mississippi, the most significant causes of death are poaching and road kills. Roads split up bear habitat and may cause vehicle collisions, increase human contact, decrease habitat use, or restrict bears' movement to other areas.
Tips for Living with Bears
Black bears are adaptable and opportunistic. They can survive in locations near humans if there are places of retreat, such as forested land, nearby. As bear populations continue to increase, bear sightings and encounters will become more common. Therefore, it is important to know how to live alongside bears.
Bear conflicts are primarily the result of the bears being attracted to a food source. Never leave garbage in the woods are at campsites. Leave food at home or sealed in your vehicle.
Review these resources provided by your local state agencies for further information on living safely with bears:
Recovery from Threatened Status
The Louisiana black bear has improved in status due to the active partnerships of many private landowners, state and Federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations. On May 20, 2015 we proposed to delist the Louisiana black bear due to successful recovery. On March 10, 2016 we removed the Louisiana black bear from the Lists of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife due to successful recovery.
Our review shows that threats to the survival of the Louisiana black bear have been eliminated or reduced, and adequate government regulations exist. The best available science indicates that healthy sub populations of this species will be viable for at least the next 100 years, with enough protected habitat to support breeding and movement of individuals between subpopulations so that the subspecies is not currently, and is not likely to again become, a threatened species.
Since the listing of the Louisiana black bear in 1992, voluntary habitat restoration programs combined with environmental regulations have not only stopped the net loss of forested lands in the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial River Valley, they have resulted in significant habitat gains. Public management areas such as National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs), Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), and Corps of Engineers lands supporting Louisiana black bear subpopulations are also protected and managed in a way that benefits the Louisiana black bear.
From 2001 to 2009, we worked with partners to implement a Louisiana black bear reintroduction project on publicly owned forested lands. That effort led to the establishment of a new subpopulation that adds to the overall size and viability of the overall bear population, and also facilitates exchange between existing subpopulations. Large-scale restoration and protection of key habitats, coupled with the benefits of that reintroduction program, have been instrumental in stabilizing and expanding the Louisiana black bear population.
Keeping Populations Healthy
In coordination with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, we have developed a draft post-delisting monitoring plan for the Louisiana black bear that will guide us in monitoring the Louisiana black bear population for seven years after it is delisted. That plan has details about monitoring methods, reporting procedures, and agency responsibilities. Multiple monitoring strategies will be used in order to assure that population trends and habitat status will be captured at various time periods and scales. There will also be a habitat-based monitoring, including an assessment of habitat abundance, persistence, and any changes in protection. The plan is designed to detect declines in Louisiana black bear populations at extremely early stages, allowing time for corrective actions to be taken.
Experts on this Species
Learn more about the people behind the recovery of the Louisiana black bear.
- David Soileau: Bear biologist who helped bring the Louisiana black bear back from the brink
- Debbie Fuller: Working hard at work worth doing
- Dr. Joseph D. Clark says bear’s continued survival depends on people
- Keith Weaver: From tagging, tracking and naming, he knows the bears of the Tensas River basin
- Kevin Norton: USDA’s easement program a win-win for landowners and bears
- Maria Davidson educates people about the ways of bears; relocates wayward bears
- U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Plays Key Role in Louisiana Black Bear Recovery
Other Organizations Contributing to Conservation
- Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
- Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks
- Texas Parks & Wildlife
- United States Geological Survey
- Natural Resource Conservation Service via the Wetland Reserve Program
- Black Bear Conservation Coalition (BBCC)
- Bear Education and Restoration Group of Mississippi (BEaR)
- East Texas Black Bear Task Force
- The Nature Conservancy, Louisiana
- The Nature Conservancy, Mississippi
- Wildlife Mississippi
- Mississippi Land Trust
- Mississippi River Trust
Designated Critical Habitat
Louisiana black bear populations have been proposed for delisting. This means they may have recovered to the point that they may no longer require federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. If the species is delisted, it will no longer require designated critical habitat.