By Teresa Holloway
EAST TEXAS – Are bears making a comeback in Texas? According to a Texas Parks and Wildlife news release, the answer is ‘maybe’.
Confirmed bear sightings have taken place in Bowie, Red River and Smith counties over the last couple of months, and wildlife biologists are advising hunters, ranchers and rural residents in those areas of potential activity.
Not since Sept. 2011 have bears been sighted in the East Texas area, according to the biologists. Breeding populations have been absent from that area for about 100 years, though a stray will occasionally wander in from Louisiana, Oklahoma or Arkansas.
“Once these bears figure out there’s no opportunity for companionship over here, they will likely retreat,” Dave Holderman said. Holderman is a non-game wildlife biologist with TPWD in Tyler.
Hunters in the sighting area may find sign of bear intrusion in camps and wildlife feeder areas. Despite a fierce appearance, bears are mostly vegans but will pilfer camps, cars, feeders, garbage cans and any other easy source of food.
Encountering a bear at close range can be frightening, but Holderman advised, “talk calmly while backing away slowly. Don’t make direct eye contact, and don’t run away. If the bear approaches you, stand your ground, raise your arms, backpack or jacket to appear larger and yell at the bear to scare it off.”
Hunters are especially cautioned, the black bear or Ursus americanus is listed as threatened by the State of Texas.
Wildlife officials encourage hunters to study their prey carefully, it is illegal to kill a bear in the state and fines can range up to $10,000, may include jail time and loss of all hunting privileges.
Game officials offered a few tips to prevent encounters with bears. Keep a clean camp, store food and drinks in a odor preventative container. Hang garbage high and far from campsites or in scent-proof containers.
Gut piles and other offal should be discarded far from the campsite. Placing deer corn in piles or in open feeders will attract more bears. Use an automatic feeder or soybeans instead of corn to attract deer.
Planting food plots is still the best way to attract bigger deer and prevent bear encounters, officials advise.
If you should spot a black bear, make a note of the location and call Holderman at 903-566-1626, ext. 209. Wildlife experts can track trends in black bear populations and their distributions.
By Teresa Holloway