BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A resurgence in Louisiana’s black bear population has sparked discussion among state officials about a hunting season for the animal, which was taken off the endangered species list in 2015.
“We can certainly have a conservative harvest in limited areas,” John Hanks, manager of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries large carnivore program, said at a public hearing Thursday. The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will likely hold a vote in November to create a bear hunting season, The Shreveport Times reported.
A Louisiana black bear hunt in 1902 inspired the iconic Teddy bear toy, when President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear that was tied to a tree by members of his hunting party. That refusal, when publicized, led to the creation of the teddy bear.
Black bears had all but disappeared from the state by the 1950s and 1960s, but wildlife experts say they’ve counted at least 1,212 bears in just the Mississippi Delta and the Atchafalaya Basin.
However, Hanks said the current estimate is probably 80% to 90% of the bear population, and the animals can be found across the state with the largest population in the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge.
The species’ recovery in Louisiana has been celebrated, but conservation groups filed a lawsuit in 2018 to get the bears back on the endangered list.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used “false assumptions and shoddy science” to make its decision to delist the bears, according to the lawsuit by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Atchafalaya Basinkeeper.
The suit also contends the bears still need federal protection, saying recovery corridors don’t connect true native populations — a requirement for delisting — and that the estimated population is inflated.