After almost a quarter of a century of tireless work, collaborative research and private-public partnership, the Louisiana black bear joins an impressive Bayou State recovery list.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Charles Melancon jointly announced the bear is recovered and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove it from the list of species protected by the Endangered Species Act at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Thursday (March 10).
Service Director Dan Ashe, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Jewell and Melancon said the determination came because of a combination of partnerships with private landowners, conservation groups, universities and other federal agencies for about 24 years that led to more bears and more subpopulations of bears meeting recovering requirements.
At the same time, the Service released a post-delisting monitoring plan for the next seven years to help ensure the bear’s future remains secure. The delisting follows a comprehensive scientific review by the Service of the bear’s status.
“Growing up in the Sportsman’s Paradise, I’m proud to join in the announcement of the recovery of the Louisiana black bear,’’ Edwards said. “The resurrection of this iconic symbol of our nation and Louisiana shows the value of science and collaborative research.
“It also represents a commitment to conservation with so many willing partners from private landowners to state and federal agencies, universities and non-governmental organizations coming together to make sure the Louisiana black bear will be around for many generations to come.’’
“I want to commend our department staff for the tireless work they put in to make this become reality,’’ said Charlie Melancon, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “It’s another success story for LDWF with recovering species. The Louisiana black bear joins a distinguished recovery list, which includes the American alligator, the bald eagle and the brown pelican. We will work toward making sure the black bear’s renaissance continues.’’
The Louisiana black bear is a subspecies of black bear unique to Louisiana, western Mississippi and eastern Texas. In 1902, it became part of American culture when, during a hunting trip near Onward, Miss., President Theodore Roosevelt spared one from his trophy collection. An editorial cartoon in The Washington Post relayed the story, sparking an idea from a Brooklyn candy store owner to create the “Teddy Bear.”
“I think President Theodore Roosevelt would have really enjoyed why we are gathered here today,” Jewell said Thursday. “Working together across private and public lands with so many partners embodies the conservation ethic he stood for when he established the National Wildlife Refuge System as part of the solution to address troubling trends for the nation’s wildlife at that time. As I said last spring when the proposal was announced, the Louisiana black bear is yet another success story for the Endangered Species Act.”
“Our partners have been incredible and our employees that dedicated much of their life’s work to this recovery have been equally incredible,” Ashe said. “Led by Louisiana and former Secretary Robert Barham, our state partners in Texas and Mississippi and private landowners have been crucial to this success. The ESA, its flexibility, and many partners have ensured that 99 percent of the species protected by it are surviving, staving off extinction, and yes, in some cases, doing much better now.”
When the Louisiana black bear was listed under the ESA in 1992 due to habitat loss, reduced quality of remaining habitat and human-related mortality, the three known breeding subpopulations were confined to the bottomland hardwood forests of Louisiana in the Tensas, and Upper and Lower Atchafalaya River basins. Those original subpopulations have all increased in number and have stable to increasing growth rates. Additional breeding subpopulations are forming in Louisiana and Mississippi, providing a healthy long-term outlook for the species.
“It is gratifying to see the work put in by so many talented people at the LDWF and our conservation partners pay off,’’ said Randy Myers, Assistant Secretary for Wildlife at LDWF. “Part of the reason for this success story has been making sure habitat for not only the black bear but other species has flourished in Louisiana. We’ve seen that happen.’’
For almost 24 years, partners including the LDWF, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Tennessee, the Service, Black Bear Conservation Coalition and private landowners, have been working to address the threat of habitat loss in the bear’s range.
The partners conducted research into the status of the existing populations, established additional subpopulations, and protected or restored more than 750,000 acres of habitat. A large proportion of habitat-supporting and connecting breeding subpopulations has been protected and restored voluntarily through private landowner restoration efforts.
The Service published a proposed delisting of the bear in May 2015 due to recovery after determining the recovery criteria, as defined in the 1995 Louisiana Black Bear Recovery Plan, have been met and the threats to the bear have been reduced or eliminated so it is not likely to become threatened with extinction now or within the foreseeable future.
According to the plan, delisting would be considered when there are at least two long-term viable breeding bear subpopulations; one each in the Tensas and Atchafalaya River Basins; habitat that supports movement between the two required breeding subpopulations is assured; and there is long-term protection of the habitat and interconnecting corridors that support the two required breeding populations.
Long-term habitat protection is defined as having sufficient assurances that degradation is not likely to occur for at least 100 years. These assurances rest heavily on voluntary conservation agreements with private landowners and public conservation agencies.
The ESA stipulates delisted species require monitoring for a minimum of five years but the bear will be monitored for seven years. The post-delisting monitoring plan, a joint effort of the LDWF and the Service, will ensure the population continues to thrive into the future under state management.