Mississippi’s black bear population focus of June research project, here is how you can help

Published 8:41 am Saturday, May 20, 2023

JACKSON — Black bear sightings are continuing to flow in including a viral video of a bear seen in Pass Christian this week to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. It is good timing too as the department nears a research project to better understand the black bear population in this state. 

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. Black Bear program coordinator Anthony Ballard is asking anyone who has regular sightings on their property or lease  south of I-20 to contact him at anthony.ballard@wfp.ms.gov.

The counties of interest were originally Adams, Amite, Claibonre, Copiah, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pike and Wilkinson Counties but a broader net has been cast in the past few weeks. Landowners participating in the program will aid a collaborative research project put on by Mississippi State University and MDWFP which will start in June. 

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Ballard they will 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. Hair samples are gathered using a hair snare, just a regular old barbed wire fence, to collect hair for DNA analysis. 

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 earlier this month. “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.” 

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. To date, Mississippians have reported 389 sightings since 2016. 

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.