East Texas, just before dusk as the
setting sun’s rays pierce through pockets of the pines, visibility is limited.
If you are sitting in a deer stand, you will notice that with every passing moment
your surroundings begin to fade and merge into darkness. The east Texas tales
of black panthers screaming into the night, and cougars that drag mangled carcasses
into trees enter the mind about this time, as you prepare to exit your stand.
At 100 yards a dark shape fumbling beneath a game feeder can be hard to identify,
but would most likely be presumed to be a feral hog. But take another look, and
make a positive identification, because that dark hog-like shape could be a black
sign newly posted in the Houston County area, near the Davy Crockett National
Photo courtesy Dana Goolsby, 2010
| Will east Texans
greet the black bear with open arms or loaded arms, as the species attempts to
naturally re-inhabit the land that they once roamed? Will history repeat itself,
and East Texas residents exterminate
the black bear once again? |
Hunters should always make positive visual
identification before shooting at anything as a general standard of hunting safety.
Bears are often mistaken for feral hogs at first, however the fine for shooting
a black bear cannot be mistaken! It would be less expensive to travel to Canada
and pay a hunting outfitter than to be convicted of killing a Texas bear. The
civil penalty for killing a black bear is a fine of $10,000 and could likely include
jail time, but almost always includes probation and loss of hunting privileges.
Bear hunting of any kind has been prohibited statewide in Texas
The black bear once occurred throughout the state of Texas.
Black bears were almost gone in Texas by the end
of World War II because
of unregulated hunting and habitat loss. For nearly a century, the bears were
hunted and killed for their meat, fat for cooking and hides for tanning, as well
as for the sport of competitive hunting. Decades ago, east Texas bear hunting
even attracted the nation's top bear enthusiast, Teddy Roosevelt.
Texas residents snuffed out the black bears in a short matter of time, but
considered themselves champion hunters. One resident accumulated 305 black bear
hides during his career. Another resident reported killing 182 black bears in
only two years time. In 1906 the last mass killing of black bears was reported.
During that year a hunter reported killing 118 black bears.
bear’s last stronghold was in the swamps and thickets of the Big Thicket Region.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has documented numerous
reliable bear sightings in recent years throughout East
Texas. Though there are no reported sightings in Houston County yet, there
are reports of black bear sightings as close as Anderson County. TPWD has no way
of knowing how many sightings go unreported each year. Photos of bears taken by
motion-sensitive cameras have verified sightings.
Studies are also being
conducted by researchers at Stephen F. Austin State University to better
determine the distribution and population of black bears in eastern Texas.
Texas possesses the elements for a good bear habitat, including food, cover
and areas with few humans. There are about 12 million acres of undeveloped private
and public land throughout East Texas.
Davy Crockett National Forest is located east of Crockett.
The forest covers a total of 161,842 acres (252.9 sq miles) in two counties: Houston
and Trinity Counties. The forest is centrally located within the Neches
and Trinity River basins. Davy Crockett National Forest is ideal terrain for a
black bear to hide as well as thrive. It is simply a matter of time before the
first black bear is seen meandering about through the bottom lands, beneath the
pines in Houston County.
Black bears have been making a slow and natural
return to Texas since 1984. Over time, black bears
have the potential to replace or refill a gap in the ecosystem that they filled
prior to their extinction in the area.
There have always been periodic
but rare sightings of black bears in East
Texas. There was a resurgence of sightings within the East
Texas region that followed a release of 161 black bears from Minnesota by
the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, between 1964-1967, in an effort
to boost populations of the species in Louisiana.
TPWD officials think
most of the bears that have made their way to Texas
are lone young males. Young male Black bears wander into Texas,
then later females. Forced to leave a territory by older male bears, young males
will roam hundreds of miles looking for suitable habitat and mates. The swamps,
forests and thickets of East Texas
have much to offer.
One popular misconception is that bears are being
relocated and stocked in East Texas.
Nathan Garner, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's regional wildlife director
for East Texas, stressed that is not
"We are not going to bring bears in at all unless we had a fairly
large (public) support," he said, adding that studies have shown general public
support for the return of the black bear to East
The question is; are the wandering black bears just sowing
wild oats and sightseeing? Or will they settle down and stay awhile?
all depends on the lady bears,” Garner said.
When a young male bear begins
actively seeking a mate, it is a powerful driving force of nature. If he does
not find a mate, he will travel as far as he must to find her. While a young male
bear is likely to roam 100 miles or more from his mother's range, female bears
are not so adventurous.
At some point in the future, a decision to bring
in female bears may be considered. However, extensive studies would have to be
made prior to such an event. Stocking may be unnecessary as bears continue to
move slowly and naturally into the forests of East
Texas from adjoining states where there are growing, expanding or stable black
A committee of stakeholders comprised of representatives
from state, federal, and private entities collaborated to develop the East
Texas Black Bear Conservation and Management Plan and form a coalition group
called the East Texas Black Bear Task Force (TBBTF). The East Texas Black
Bear Conservation and Management Plan adopted by TPWD in 2005 uses a partnership
approach to facilitate the recovery of black bears in eastern Texas through cooperative
“This plan was produced in the spirit of conservation for the
Specific strategies addressed in this plan strive to promote public awareness
through outreach while providing public and private biologists and willing landowners
with the technical knowledge to increase and/or enhance suitable black bear habitat
throughout East Texas. The purpose
of re-establishing the bear is a viable part of the native wildlife community
of East Texas.", according to
the mission statement of the East Texas Black Bear Conservation and Management
bears are usually reclusive and solitary animals that shy away from human contact,
but with more bears coming into East Texas,
it is possible that hunters or campers could encounter one. Bears are primarily
vegetarians, feeding on blackberries, grapes, acorns, leaves and other forest
vegetation. People are more comfortable with the return of the black bear, after
realizing that 90% of its diet is vegetarian. However, black bears are opportunistic
feeders and their diets change with seasons. However, no confrontations between
bears and people have been reported.
Bears are still rare in Texas and
very few Texans have ever seen one here, and is unlikely that you or someone you
know will ever encounter one. Black bears go to great lengths to avoid humans.
so, never approach a bear. If you do happen to encounter a black bear at close
range in the wilderness of East Texas,
do not panic. Do not run either, says the TPWD Black Bears in Texas brochure.
Back away slowly, with arms overhead to increase the size of your appearance,
talk firmly and in a low-pitched voice. If a bear stands on its hind legs, it
is not preparing to attack. It is trying to see, hear and smell you. NEVER approach
a bear cub.
Public opinion surveys of residents in several Texas counties
show general support for the return of black bears, while also indicating a need
for more easily available information about bears.
you happen to encounter the elusive Black bear, call TPWD. One of the bear plan’s
goals is to resolve human-bear conflicts. If you see a bear, or have a bear problem,
call your TPWD game warden or wildlife biologist or the Texas Parks and Wildlife
Department at (800) 792-1112.
Anyone can receive the recently created brochure
“Bear Safety in Mind” from TPWD by calling the following regional offices nearest
you: East Texas/Tyler-
shoe horses, don't they?" Guest
Column, October 14, 2010
First Published in The Grapeland Messenger
on Bears in Texas
Big Thicket Bear Hunters Club of Kountze by W. T. Block Jr.
old bear hunters of Hardin County had two things in common - they hunted bears
until their youth gave way to old age, and they became windy raconteurs, talking
each other to death about the big bear that got away... And now the Big Thicket
bear hunters are as extinct as the Big Thicket bears they once hunted."
and Bear It by Milton
"There's nothing worse than a drunken bear in a department store..."
Texas Animals | East
Texas | Grapeland | Crockett
| Tyler |