The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is proposing the first bear hunt in the Bayou State since the Louisiana black bear was removed from the Endangered Species List in 2016. According to the Shreveport Times, the Louisiana Wildlife Commission could vote as soon as next month for a hunt that would open in 2024.

While black bears were nearly extirpated from Louisiana by the 1950s and 60s, the population has since rebounded. Today, biologists with the LDWF say there are roughly 1,200 black bears in the Mississippi Delta and the Atchafalaya Basin alone. “We can certainly have a conservative harvest in limited areas,” LDWF Large Carnivore Program Manager John Hanks told the commission during its regular meeting on Thursday, October 5.

Black bears are found throughout Louisiana, with a majority of them in the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge—a 64,000-acre tract of hardwood bottomland in the Mississippi Delta. Additional refuges in the state have helped with population recovery efforts while the Louisiana black bear subspecies was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act from 1992 through 2015. Known for its longer, flatter, skull and large molars, the Louisiana subspecies is genetically distinct from other black bear populations in North America

While state wildlife officials point to the Louisiana black bear’s resurgence as a true conservation success story, the proposed hunt is not without controversy. In 2018, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a lawsuit alleging that native black bear populations haven’t connected through recovery corridors yet. PEER also claims that the state’s population estimates are inflated.

LDWF Administrator Scott Durham tells Field & Stream that the department’s population data is robust. “We have some of the best bear population estimates in the South,” Durham says. “It’s all based on scientific data, population models, telemetry data, vital rates—and our thoughts are that we would only propose a hunt to the Commission in an area that could sustain it.”

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President Theodore Roosevelt hunted black bears in Louisiana in the early 1900s. On one occasion, he refused to shoot a black bear tied to a tree by his hunting party. His refusal inspired the invention of the teddy bear. That was in 1902. Now the region has a national wildlife refuge named after Roosevelt, but a bear hunting season hasn’t happened there for decades, despite recovering numbers. 

“Clearly we have a strong bear population,” Richard Kennedy, Safari Club International spokesperson testified during the early October commission meeting. “We’re in support of anything that moves forward a season.” According to Durham, any proposed hunt will be “very small and limited”, and it’ll have to be approved by the Commission before it goes to a 90-day public comment period. The Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, November 2.