Growth of Mississippi’s black bears

Published 8:23 am Tuesday, October 17, 2023

JACKSON — Black bears are native to Mississippi and the population is making a comeback. Field work, observations and posts in Mississippi Black Bear Photos Facebook Group are indicative of a rebounding population.

Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is working to put the pieces of field work and research together to update their estimate for Mississippi’s black bear population. Bear program coordinator Anthony Ballard worked on projects such as collaring bears since he took over in February.

Over the past year, Ballard said he has seen two surprises. One is the density of bears. He knew there were a lot of bears in Southwest Mississippi in Wilkinson County and Claiborne. 

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“From Utica to Port Gibson I didn’t realize exactly how many bears there were. It was a surprise. I collared five there in a 15 to 20 mile stretch. It was a surprising density,” Ballard said. 

Most of the bear density in Claiborne County is along the Bayou Pierre. It makes sense as bears and most other animals use drainages and waterways as travel corridors. MDWFP collared a 200 pound male a few miles from Alcorn State University. Ballard said the bear has made its way through Canemount WMA and the Windsor Ruins. 

Clarke County has a pretty good bear density too based on public posts in the Mississippi Bear Photos Facebook group. Ballard said another surprise to him was finding bears in Noxubee and Atalla County where habitat gets pretty sparse up there. 

Mississippians have contributed to the bear program research by reporting sightings of bears. In 2022, people reported 70 bears but the number doubled to 150 black bear sightings so far in 2023. MDWFP unveiled an interactive map featuring these observations earlier this year. 

“I attribute the growth more to public awareness. They know what to do and it has helped gather more data,” Ballard said. “It helped the public understand that bears are still out there.” 

Synopsis of the bear program

MDWFP’s next commission meeting is in November where Ballard will present on the bear program for an educational session starting at 9 a.m. The meeting will be at the MDWFP Headquarters in Jackson. 

It will be a year in review for Ballard as he unofficially took the reins of the bear program in November before getting his official start in January. 

“The session will be more of an update on the trapping we have done with MSU and what we have done since I took over,” Ballard said. “I’ll get to talk about how we have moved the bear program forward.”