FRANKLIN, LA — State wildlife officials and south Louisiana residents agreed Tuesday night that removing the protected status of coastal black bears will help to maintain the bear population and protect neighborhoods.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries held a meeting to share the results of a three-year-long study of the black bear population in St. Mary and Iberia parishes. Conducted by Jesse Troxler, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, the study found that the black bear population in that area has grown to approximately 138.
That marks a five percent annual growth rate compared to the previous major study, completed in 1998.
The coastal black bear population had shrunk to as few as 30 during the 1980's due to the loss of habitat, caused by deforestation and the construction of levees that altered the environment.
Some attendees of Tuesday's meeting claimed the bear population must be higher than 138, based on their own sightings and anecdotal evidence. Troxler and Maria Davidson, the large carnivore program manager for LDWF, agreed that the limitations of the research likely gave them a smaller number than the actual population, though the felt confident in the methodology and the analysis.
Several people stated a desire to maintain or reduce the number of bears. In recent months, several bears have been spotted near people's homes, rummaging through trash cans for food, particularly in Patterson.
The black bear is federally protected, based on its low numbers and the instability of its population. Based on the increase in numbers and sustainability, the US Fish and Wildlife Service could remove it from the threatened species list, giving Louisiana more control over the bears. LDWF could choose to issue a limited number of hunting permits to limit the bear population and keep them from interacting with people.
Davidson indicated that the findings released Tuesday were preliminary, and that a final analysis of the coastal black bear population would likely be completed around the beginning of 2014.