Going to catch a big one, Mississippi seeks landowner help in bear research projects

Published 10:13 am Monday, May 8, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — Private landowners in Southwest Mississippi can help the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks trap and conduct research on black bears. MDWFP is looking for private properties which have regular black bear sightings to participate. 

The counties of interest are Adams, Amite, Claibonre, Copiah, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pike and Wilkinson Counties. Landowners participating in the program will aid a collaborative research project put on by Mississippi State University and MDWFP.

Black bear program coordinator Anthony Ballard said they have received interest from 20 private landowners as of Friday morning. He said they work with private landowners to make research work more efficient. MDWFP is undertaking a project to collect hair samples for genetic sampling and collaring bears to track movements. 

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“It has been a good response so far. We have more properties than we can probably trap,” Ballard said. “We mostly targeted Wilkinson County because there is a solid density of sightings around the Woodville area. Of the 20 respondents, 12 to 15 are in Wilkinson County.” 

Ballard was recently named the Black Bear Program coordinator in March after Richard Rummel retired from the position last fall. The new bear man said he has a few goals including getting an updated solid estimate on what the density of the population is. 

Mississippi has seen a recovery in the native population over the last few decades. The black bear program recorded its first breeding female in 2005. Ballard said the increase in numbers means a likelihood of more sightings and potential conflicts. 

“We want to make sure the public understands how to live with bears,” Ballard said. “We will teach people about how to avoid conflict. It is one of our big goals. We are planning to publish new information about bears on our webpage too.” 

There have been three new black bear sightings in southwest Mississippi this week. One in Amite County, one in Wilkinson County and one in Franklin County to bring the state up to 375 reports of bear sightings since 2016.

Two species of black bears reside in Mississippi, the Louisiana Black Bear and the American Black Bear. MDWFP has an interactive map found on the Black Bear Program page which shows where bears have been seen.

Since 2016, one black bear has been seen in Lincoln, Amite, Lawrence and Pike Counties, six in Copiah County, eight in Adams County, 12 in Jefferson County, 13 in Franklin County, 19 in Claiborne County and 22 bears in Wilkinson County. 

Black bears become more active in the summer time as they start to breed and young males are kicked out of their mom’s home range. They are shy and secretive and by nature are not predatory.

Supplemental feeding and leaving food out for bears can be a catalyst of human and bear conflicts. MDWFP recommends people stop feeding bears. 

Attacks by black bears are rare and there has never been a reported attack in Mississippi on a human. However, bears are large and powerful so humans should treat them with caution and respect.

You can report a bear sighting online to help Mississippi’s bear program in collecting data about the state bear population.