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Louisiana Black Bears Relocated to New Home

In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt set off a national craze for stuffed Teddy Bears by refusing to shoot a small Louisiana black bear he encountered in a Mississippi forest.

Today, less than 600 black bears remain in the coastal flatwoods and marshes of northern Louisiana. That number may be too low to ensure the survival of this unique subspecies of black bear, which inhabits scattered portions of Louisiana and western Mississippi.

In 1992, the Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Service declared the bears threatened under the Endangered Species Act. While the act protected the animals, the measure was not enough to spare the bears from possible extinction, says Jerome Ford, refuge manager for the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Tallulah, Louisiana.

Ford and other state officials are hoping to speed up the recovery of black bears by relocating some to a new breeeding area in the Red River/Three River Wildlife Management Area, approximately 100 miles (140 kilometers) away.

"The repatriation program is part of our obligation to a black bear recovery plan," says Ford.

black bears

A Louisiana black bear cub gets a lift to its new home.

Photograph by Chad Cohen/National Geographic Today.

A New Home

On March 7th, Louisiana State wildlife officials transported a black bear and three of her cubs to their new home in the Red River/Three River area.

The mother was trapped and collared with 30 other black bears last fall. Since the bears spent the winter months denning, they were relatively easy to locate through the radio collars.

The bears were transported to an artificial den in the new location, where experts hope they will emerge from denning in April and establish a new home in an area once teaming with bears.

Previous reintroduction efforts using male bears have failed due to the bears' strong homing instincts. Some bears found their way home after being relocated 100-200 miles (140-280 kilometers) away. But experts believe a mother with young cubs will stay put.

"Males are like nomads," says Ford. "Females have a much smaller home range."

The mother and cubs will be the only black bears in their new home—for now.

"Hopefully a wandering male will come by, and help to establish a new population there," says Ford.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to relocate at least one other bear this spring. Each relocated bear will be monitored with a radio collar.

Similar bear relocation programs were successful in Tenessee and Arkansas.

Black Bear Comeback

While Melissa and her cubs are being relocated to a well-established hardwood forest, a unique program is creating more habitat for the threatened black bears.

The federal Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) pays farmers for agricultural land and costs to restore forests on the farmland. The program allows the farmers to maintain ownership of the land as long as they protect it.

To date, the WRP has reclaimed about 80,000 acres of wetland in Louisiana by replanting hardwood trees and recreating original wetland areas, according to Ron Marcantel, a state resource conservationist with the Louisiana Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Marcantel says that conservation officials hope that eventually a wildlife corridor will be created to link bear habitats throughout the state.

In Louisiana, property that could help restore the corridor and provide more black bear habitat is a top priority, says Marcantel, who adds that the program has also restored habitats for migratory birds and other endangered species.

Marcantel adds, "It's a lot of fun watching these areas come back to what they were."

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