Twenty years have passed since Gary Brown wrote the Great Bear Almanac (1993). Populations have increased in 3 states that had very low bear numbers back then.
Table 1 in a previous post (Black Bear Population Estimates) shows the 1993 data and the most current black bear population estimates for 14 states that had very low or extirpated black bear populations in 1993. This post summarizes and adds more information for three of those states; Connecticut, Missouri and Ohio that have breeding black bear populations that are increasing.
Black Bear Population in Connecticut
The black bear population in Connecticut, which is the 4th most densely populated state (741.4 people per square mile) has increased from 20-50 in 1993 to “several hundred” today. They are even discussing the option to control black bear population by allowing hunting.
How is this possible?
In 1820, only 25% of Connecticut was forested, but by 2004 nearly 60% of Connecticut was forested and totals 1.9 million acres as farmland was allowed to turn back into forests (http://www.fs.fed.us/ne/newtown_square/publications/resource_bulletins/pdfs/2004/ne_rb160.pdf).
In Connecticut, 54% of forests are privately owned and the average patch size of the forest is relatively small, with 56% of patches between 125 and 2,500 acres and 86% of sampled forests were within ¼ mile of a forest edge.
Black Bear Densities
The size of black bear home ranges are known to vary by factors such as sex and ecoregion and have individual home ranges can vary from 640 – 38,000 acres, but smallest territory size and presumably the highest densities are in the moist Eastern Deciduous and West Coast Marine Forests.
Black bear densities have been estimated by various studies:
- 0.09 to 0.35/km2 (or 2,777 – 706 acres per bear) – Smokey Mountains
- 0.046 – 0.339/km2 (or 5,372 – 729 acres per bear) – Coastal South Carolina
- up to 0.6/km2 (or 412 acres per bear) – Ontario
- 0.27/km2 (or 915 acres per bear) – British Columbia (Interior)
- 1.51/km2 (or 163.6 acres per bear) – Kuiu Island (SE Alaska)
For comparison, if we assume that the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s estimate of “Several hundred” black bears means 300 bears, then that number of bears spread across 1.9 million acres of forest has a relatively low density of 0.039 bears/km2 or 6,333 acres per bear.
Black Bear Population in Missouri
In Missouri,black bear populations have increased from 50-150 in 1993 to 225 today.
Black bear populations are increasing in Missouri for two main reasons:
- In the 1960s, black bears were successfully reintroduced in to Arkansas, which are now moving north into Missouri.
- Bear habitat has improved in Missouri in the last 100 years.
Just as forest have increased in Connecticut, so have they increased in Missouri. By 1925, most of the timber had been cut from the Ozarks. Today, Missouri has 14 million acres of forest (http://mdc.mo.gov/about-us/get-know-us/missouri-forest-facts); 85% of the forest is privately owned, 12% is Federally owned (Mark Twain National Forest) and 3% is owned by the state or local governments.
Statewide black bear density is currently only 225 bears in 14 million acres, or an extremely low density of 0.004 bears/km2 or 62,222 acres per bear. With 14 million acres, the black bear population will drastically increase in Missouri if allowed to do so. The (Mark Twain National Forest with 1.5 million acres could support as many as 400 bears at very conservative density of 3,750 acres per bear.
Black Bear Population in Ohio
In Ohio,black bear populations have increased from 25 in 1993 to as many as 100 today. Black bear habitat has also improved in Ohio since the state reached a low in forest cover in 1942 of about 3.8 million acres. By 2006, forests in Ohio grew to 7.9 million acres or about 30% of the state (http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/rb/rb_nrs36.pdf).
But forests in Ohio are now being harvested or converted by new development and the increase in forest has apparently being reversed. Forests in Ohio are mostely owned by families (73%). The Federal government owns about 4% (227,800 acres in the Wayne National Forest) and 8% is owned by state or local governments. 15% of Ohio forests are owned by private business.
Statewide black bear density in Ohio is only 100 bears in 7.9 million acres, or an extremely low density of 0.003 bears/km2 or 79,000 acres per bear. The (Wayne National Forest could support as many as 60 bears at very conservative density of 3,797 acres per bear.
It is interesting that the Forest patch size in Ohio differs between the glaciated and unglaciated areas. In the north and west about half of the forests is in small patches off 50 acres or less and in the south and east Ohio, 65% of forests patches are at least 1,000 acres. Forest cover is much less in the glaciated areas as well, with over half (58% average) of the south and east are forested but only 18% of the south and east Ohio being forested.
On average, only 24% of the forests in Ohio are at least ¼ mile from a road.
It is interesting to note that the regrowth of forests and the subsequent increase in bear populations had very little to do with wildlife management or policies of and state or federal wildlife agencies, but had more to do with economic realities that caused changes in land use many years ago.
So, despite the passage of another 20 years since the publication of the Great Bear Almanac, where we assume human population growth and development would inevitably convert more and more wildlife habitat for human purposes, we see that if habitat is preserved or improved, wildlife populations can persist and even increase.