JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missourians may soon be able to hunt black bears as state officials reach a pivot point on bear management.
The Missouri Department of Conservation is meeting with state residents to discuss their Black Bear Management Plan and receive feedback from the public. One of their statements, according to a video on their website, includes deliberations for black bear hunting.
Black bears are a native species to Missouri. After hunting drove their numbers to nearly zero in the early 1900s, re-introduction in Arkansas in the 1950s and ’60s boosted bear population in the state. Some of them migrated north.
In 2008, MDC set the benchmark for black bear hunting at 500 bears in the state. There was an estimated black bear population of 300 to 350 in 2012. Now, the department says it’s between 540 and 840, growing nine percent each year.
From 2000 to 2010, MDC received 512 bear reports in 75 counties, according to a draft of their management plan. From 2011 to 2017 MDC received 1,341 bear reports in 87 counties. The draft states that reports are not verified sightings but still indicate a sharp increase in bear population.
The department will “seek to maintain those numbers through regulated harvest,” the draft states.
“Hunting is the primary tool for managing bear populations and 66% of jurisdictions allow bear hunting,” the draft states, citing the 2019 Eastern Black Bear Workshop Jurisdictional Survey.
Today, bears are expanding their range, leading to an increase in nuisance complaints and reported sightings. The population is largest south of I-44 in forested regions, but some expanding ranges include areas south of St. Louis and in central Missouri.
“Think of a bear as a large raccoon,” the video states, explaining that bears are “opportunistic omnivores” that will eat whatever they can access.
MDC asks residents in higher bear population areas to monitor animal feed and manage trash and food waste. Increasing opportunity leads to bolder bear behavior.
“A fed bear is a dead bear,” the video states, saying the department often has to euthanize bears that get too friendly.
Deliberations for bear hunting are in the beginning stages, and it’s unclear when the season would begin or how long it would last.