Mississippi State launches public survey on black bears

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, July 3, 2024

By Sam Hughes

Mississippi State University

STARKVILLE —Many Mississippi landowners and hunters are receiving black bear surveys this week in their mailboxes from Mississippi State University researchers studying how the public feels about the carnivore in the Magnolia State.

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Sharp Professor of Human Dimensions Kevin Hunt in the MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center—in collaboration with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, or MDWFP—is conducting the surveys to better understand human/black bear interactions. MDWFP Biologist Anthony Ballard said his agency hopes to use this study to help optimize public outreach to achieve the management goals of these bears in the state.

“The purpose of this study is to learn about Mississippi resident perceptions and attitudes toward black bears, experiences with them and opinions on their management; for landowners, whether they have had any property damage caused by black bears; and for hunters, whether they would participate in black bear hunting if their future population size increased to huntable levels,” Hunt said.

The study includes two separate surveys randomly mailed to 4,000 hunters and 4,000 landowners, respectively, to gather an unbiased public perspective. It will identify the public’s readiness in possibly facing an expanding black bear population. Researchers hope to estimate knowledge about the animal, with particular attention to areas most suitable for habitat restoration.

“If you receive this survey in the mail, please fill it out and return it to us. This information is critical to establishing best management practices for our state’s black bear population, whether you’ve ever seen one or even knew we had them in Mississippi,” Hunt said.

Once common in Mississippi, black bears nearly disappeared from the state in the early 1900s. While the exact population in Mississippi is unknown, it is thought to have increased over the last 25 years.

Hunt said that up-to-date information on the public’s experiences with these bears is instrumental for MDWFP to make effective wildlife management decisions that align with public concern and desires.

“Any wildlife policy, no matter how scientifically sound, will fail if it is not in accord with the fundamental views of the public. MDWFP manages wildlife in the public trust, and if their management is inconsistent with public opinion, there are negative consequences,” Hunt said. “These surveys are a way to see what the public thinks before management decisions are made.”

The study is funded through the Mississippi Project of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Fund administered by U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Project W-48-71).

For more on MSU’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center, visit www.fwrc.msstate.edu.

Mississippi State University is taking care of what matters. Learn more at www.msstate.edu.