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Black bears were abundant throughout Missouri during the 18th and 19th centuries, though by the 1890s they were almost gone from their last stronghold in the Ozarks. Bears were believed extirpated from the state by the 1940s due to unregulated harvest and major losses in forest habitat. Over the past 50 years, black bears have been naturally recolonizing Missouri, especially in the southern parts of the state. This resurgence was likely facilitated by two factors, the first being a successful black bear reintroduction program in Arkansas in the 1960s, after which some bears likely dispersed north into Missouri, and the second being improvements in bear habitat since the period of unregulated timber harvesting at the turn of the 20th century. Sightings of adult bears and cubs, nuisance complaints and other incidents involving bears have increased considerably over the past 10-15 years, suggesting that the black bear is increasing in abundance and expanding its range in the state.
Black Bears are an integral part of Missouri's native ecosystems, valued as a game species, and for their contributions to regional biodiversity and ecosystem health. Bears may also be regarded as a nuisance or of safety concern by the public. As bear populations increase and expand geographically, human-bear conflicts will likely also increase given the generalist nature of bears. Research of population demographic parameters is needed to provide insight into the dynamics of this recolonizing bear population, and will inform decisions regarding the conservation and management of black bears in ways that minimize conflicts with humans while encouraging expansion into compatible habitats, with the long-term goal of managing bears as a game species. This study will be the first systematic, quantitative population estimate of black bears in the state of Missouri.
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Estimated black bear distribution in Missouri based on reported observations, 1989-2010 . Points represent individual observations; estimated density of sightings ranges from high (red areas) to low (white areas). (click on the image to see a larger version of the map.)