LOUISIANA BLACK BEARS
North Louisiana is home to one species of bear: the Louisiana Black Bear. The black bear is the official state mammal, and probably the most famous mammal in Louisiana. These gals and guys are so famous that, in 1907, Teddy Roosevelt made a special trip to North Louisiana to hunt black bear (and to make a few speeches). Unfortunately, this wasn't the famous bear trip that resulted in everybody's favorite huggable bedtime toy; he was on the Mississippians' side of the river during that 1902 trip. However, in 1907, Roosevelt reported that he was “In the Louisiana Canebrakes”—which indicates that he was in the Tensas River region, not that he had been swallowed whole by a pair of rattlesnakes. Indeed, he was in the Carroll and Madison Parish areas. Warning: It’s illegal to kill a bear in Louisiana. If you try to imitate the former President's hunting trip, you will be liable for a fine and may face jail time!
Black bears were once nearly extinct in Louisiana, but the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has successfully reestablished the black bear. As late as 2010, there were only 300 recorded black bears in Louisiana. The main arteries for these animals were along the Tensas, Atchafalaya, lower East Pearl and Pascagoula River basins. Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi have all listed the black bear as protected. In addition, the Federal government has listed the Louisiana Black Bear in the Endangered Species Act.The animal was removed from the national registry of endangered animals in May of 2016.
Although they are found throughout the North Louisiana wilderness, black bears are found in larger numbers along the “Black Bear Corridor” along the Mississippi River. Bears usually hang out in bottomland hardwood forests and swamps, and you are most likely to find them at the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, although I have seen signs of bears in the Catahoula National Wildlife Management Preserve in the Kisatchie Forest.
Bears are most active in the fall when they forage for food for the winter, but they are also commonly seen in the summer. They use travel corridors, such as drains, ditches, bayous, and riverbanks that have vegetation covering them. Bears are more active between dusk and dawn, but may also be active during the day.
Black bears den in large tree cavities, thickets, and thick vegetation anytime between late November and early January. However, in our neck of the woods, they do not truly hibernate. They merely go through a dormancy period that helps them survive food shortages during the winter. During hibernation, they can be awakened easily. Do not disturb hibernating bears. It’s not only rude, it’s dangerous.
Thanks to grizzly movies and stories, black bears have a bad rep. Unless they feel threatened, or are really, really hungry, black bears aren’t likely to attack humans. While human remains have been found in these animals, bears prefer food they don’t have to fight. Bears are classified as carnivores, but are, in reality, omnivores. Most of their diet is composed of acorns and nuts, fruits, insects, sugarcane, berries, crops, and other vegetation. They love berries, and they’re opportunistic eaters, meaning that they eat whatever they find. They prefer not to waste energy chasing food, and generally are only dangerous to humans if they live in arid regions where other sources of food are scares or feel threatened. They will even eat garbage. They are opportunistic hunters that prefer to steal from other animals, rather than kill their own food. Despite what you've learned from Winnie the Pooh, bears don't eat honey, they eat bees.
Where to Find North Louisiana Black Bears
Black bears can be found throughout the forests in North Louisiana. The largest populations of black bears can be found in the dense forested wildlife management and refuges along the Mississippi River and Tensas Rivers.