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Relocation of Black Bears to the Red River and Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area: So Far - So Good


September 20, 2001

Elsie Davis, USFWS, (404) 679-7107
Lisa Noland, LDWF, (225) 765-2465
Paul Davidson, (225) 763-5425 Black Bear Conservation Committee

Thanks to the combined efforts of the people from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Black Bear Conservation Committee, Louisiana State University, landowners, and many others, the Louisiana black bears (Ursus americanus luteolus) were successfully reintroduced to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' Red River Wildlife Management Area in Concordia Parish.

Four female black bears with a total of nine newborn cubs were moved in early March of 2001 from private lands in St. Mary and Madison Parishes to artificial den structures in the project area at Red River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Concordia Parish.

"Females bears with cubs are the best candidates for a successful relocation effort," said Don Anderson, biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The maternal instinct to care for their cub overrides their desire to get home. Relocating males is tougher, as they generally seek to return to their original location."

Thus far, the project has been a success, but working with wildlife, especially animals with large home ranges, can be very challenging. While three of the four females moved to the area are still located on the Red River WMA, one left the area. Her abandoned cubs were returned to south Louisiana and successfully fostered to another female bear with cubs.

"As a partnership, this is truly a win-win situation," said Maria Davidson, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, who has been involved with this partnership since the beginning. "It takes extensive cooperation to bring back this wonderful species that can regain a lost component of the bottomland hardwoods ecosystem. Bears perform a vital role in the complex ecosystem of the Southeast and it is essential for us to continue working together to successfully recover this animal. If you have bears living successfully, you have a healthy ecosystem, which benefits everyone."

Several years ago, the Louisiana Black Bear Recovery and Restoration Subcommittee of the Black Bear Conservation Committee recommended the establishment of another breeding subpopulation at Louisiana's Red River and Three Rivers Complex in the hopes of creating a link between the two existing subpopulations in the Atchafalaya River Basin and the Tensas River Basin. This year's relocation, a first step towards that end, was designed to examine the feasibility of translocating denned, adult female Louisiana black bears and their cubs to unoccupied suitable habitat as a management technique to accelerate the Louisiana black bear's recovery.

Anderson went on to say the agencies will evaluate the progress the bears are making and jointly decide if more bears will be relocated in the future. This project has been and will continue to be invaluable by testing the success of the translocation technique and the response of bears from the Deltic and Coastal subpopulations to relocation to the Red River and Three Rivers area.

"We think this is the best first step to accelerate the bear's recovery," said Paul Davidson, executive director of the Black Bear Conservation Committee. "It lets us examine the feasibility of translocating denned, adult female Louisiana black bears and their cubs to unoccupied suitable habitat as a management technique to accelerate the subspecies' recovery."

To ensure the public had the opportunity to express concern or voice support for the project and understand how it works, three town hall meetings were held in the summer of 2000 for the communities that are located near the repatriation area. These meetings paved the way for the project with landowners and other members of the public, and gave everyone the chance to ask questions about the project.

Louisiana's wildlife management areas are owned and managed by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and supported by the local sportsman. LDWF continuously strives to enhance the success of its Wildlife Management Areas and the unique habitats they provide. The Red Rivers and Three Rivers Complex is one of the largest contiguous blocks of publicly-owned land in the state, and encompasses more than 100,000 acres. This area includes Three Rivers WMA, Red River WMA, Spring Bayou WMA, Grassy Lake WMA, and Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge -- which has reforested more than 5,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods.

Since 1992, more than 6,000 acres of privately-owned land have been restored in that area through federal conservation incentive programs. This area is within the historic range of the Louisiana black bear and could serve to link existing bear populations in the Tensas River Basin and the Morganza Spillway area and help expedite the bear's recovery. The reforestation that is occurring in the region not only helps restore the bottomland hardwoods ecosystem, it will also greatly aid the restoration of the Louisiana black bear.

The Louisiana black bear is one of 16 subspecies of the American black bear (Ursus americanus) and originally inhabited the forests of Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and eastern Texas. Extensive land clearing -- primarily for agricultural purposes -- has reduced its habitat by more than 80 percent. The remaining available bear habitat is highly fragmented, resulting in the isolation of breeding subpopulations within three areas of Louisiana. The subspecies is now restricted to core subpopulations in the Tensas River Basin, the upper Atchafalaya River Basin, and coastal St. Mary and Iberia Parishes. The Louisiana black bear was federally listed as a threatened species in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas in 1992 due to the reduction in population size resulting from extensive habitat loss. It is illegal to shoot or otherwise harm a bear.

So what's next?

"Now we keep up with the movements of the animals with the use of radio-telemetry," said Anderson. "If things go right, they will continue to stay in the general area and begin to establish a new home range. If subsequent releases are feasible, we are hopeful that a subpopulation could be established."

The relocated bears are being monitored by Louisiana State University graduate student Kyle Van Why, supervised by Dr. Mike Chamberlain, and biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For additional information regarding the Louisiana black bear repatriation project by contacting Don Anderson at 318/574-2664, or e-mail: at the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System that encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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