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Two biologists check on the health of a sedated Louisiana black bear
Information icon The Service’s David Soileau (right) examines a tranquilized Louisiana Black Bear as part of an effort to study the recovery of the species’ population. Photo by USFWS.

David Soileau: bringing the Louisiana black bear back from the brink

David Soileau job title at the Service’s Louisiana Ecological Services Office is quite a mouthful: “Conservation Planning Assistance Coordinator.” What does it mean, exactly?

“I wear a variety of hats,” Soileau says, with a laugh.

He wears his “coordinator” hat working on a program that helps willing private landowners restore agricultural land to its original natural state and conserve it in perpetuity. The landowners accrue credits that can be sold to others applying for a permit to develop on land with similar natural ecosystems nearby. In this way, the permit applicant compensates for the expected adverse impacts of the new development.

Soileau slips on his “bear biologist” hat, however, by pointing out that the greatest threat to the Louisiana black bear population has been habitat loss, especially to agriculture.

“As a result,” he says, “I try to steer as much private land restoration into areas that would benefit the Louisiana black bear.”

One of Soileau’s proudest achievements in his 17 years working for the Service involved repatriating 48 adult female Louisiana black bears and 104 of their cubs to an area of the state that had historically supported a population, but was virtually devoid of bears by 2001.

“Ongoing research suggests that bears are now abundant in this area,” he says.

He notes that most of the bears that were repatriated originally came from Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. Coincidentally, this is where Soileau spent his youth hunting deer.

“When I hunted there as a kid in the early 1980s, I was aware that bears existed in that part of Louisiana but was never fortunate enough to actually see one,” he says. “In fact, no other hunters that I knew had ever seen a bear in that area – or anywhere else in Louisiana, for that matter.”

Thanks to the efforts of Soileau and others, the Louisiana black bear population has made a strong recovery.

“Two years ago, about 30 years after my very first hunt on Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, I made a two-day deer hunt on that refuge,” Soileau says. “I actually saw more bears than deer.”

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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