The decline of the Louisiana black bear population is attributed to habitat loss, significant habitat alteration, reduction of the bear’s range, and unregulated harvesting.

Why are they rare?

The American black bear, Ursus americanus, was once found throughout North America as far north as Alaska and northern Canada and as far south as northern Mexico. The Louisiana black bear is on of the 16 recognized subspecies of black bears in North America.

Bears in Louisiana, the lower two thirds of Mississippi, and eastern Texas are considered to belong to the subspecies Ursus americanus luteolus, the Louisiana Black Bear.

The decline of the Louisiana black bear population is attributed to habitat loss, significant habitat alteration, reduction of the bear’s range, and unregulated harvesting.

Historic accounts refer to bears as common throughout the Louisiana Black Bear’s historic range, with greatest densities in the expansive bottomland hardwood forests associated with river basins in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (LMAV).

Land drainage and clearing of bottomland hardwood forests for agriculture reduced the original 24 million acres of these forests in the LMAV to 4 million acres by 1980. Unfortunately, many of these vast tracts are too wet for agriculture and are considered marginal or totally non-productive as cropland. Examples of the extent of habitat loss include the Tensas River Basin in Louisiana and the Yazoo River Basin in Mississippi, where less that 20 percent of the original forested acreage remained in bottomland hardwoods.

Since black bears have a low reproductive rate, the effect of illegal killing of adult bears, especially females, is also a serious concern. Habitat loss was a significant causal factor in the decline of the black bear population, but unregulated hunting may have been a primary factor limiting recovery.

In 1992 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) declared the subspecies “threatened” under provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Although the amount of bottomland hardwood loss has stabilized since the early 1990’s, restoration of this habitat is still critical for bear recovery.

Presently, black bear populations are found in core areas in the Tensas and Atchafalaya River basins in Louisiana, with small, scattered populations in southeast Louisiana and western Mississippi. Biologists estimate the current population at 500 to 800 animals within the historic range.