Black bears, Ursus americanus, are listed as threaten by the state of Texas and the Louisiana black bear, Ursus americanus luteolus, formerly resident in eastern Texas, is federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (USFWS 1992). Black bears were probably widely distributed in suitable habitats throughout Texas prior to Anglo-American settlement (1820s) (Bailey 1905); although, this point is not well documented. By the time of the first organized survey of Texas mammals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Biological Survey (1890-1904), black bears had been over exploited for over a half a century (Daugherty 1982, Sitton 1995) and were in serious decline across most of the state (Bailey 1905). The rugged mountains of the Trans Pecos region were an exception to this pattern of decline where Vernon Bailey reported black bears were still "fairly common" in the Guadalupe, Davis, and Chisos mountains (1901-1902). Trans Pecos bear populations persisted for the next 50 years before finally succumbing to the combined pressures of sport hunting, predator control, and habitat alteration (Onorato and Hellgren 1998). During this period, a viable population of bears remained in the nearby mountains of Coahuila and Chihuahua, Mexico (Leopold 1959, Baker and Greer 1962) and provided a source for natural recolonization of unoccupied habitats in the Trans Pecos (Doan-Crider and Hellgren 1996). By the mid-1990s, a small breeding black bear population was reestablished in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park (Skiles 1995). Black bear sightings are now reported annually in the Dead Horse, Glass, Del Norte, Davis, and Guadalupe mountains (Vazant 2002), which suggests that recolonization of the Trans Pecos is an ongoing process.
Over the past decade, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has supported the natural recovery of black bears in the Trans Pecos by enforcing laws that prohibit illegal take of bears, monitoring bear sightings and mortalities, responding to bear depredations with non-lethal means, conducting research on bear food habits, population ecology, and habitat selection (McKinney and Pittman 2000), and developing technical and popular educational materials. In 2002, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission directed the TPWD to prepare a 10-year strategic plan for the conservation and management of bears statewide. TPWD initiated the planning process with the creation of two black bear working groups, one each for west and east Texas, composed of agency, private landowner, and non-government organization stakeholders with diverse interests in black bear conservation and management. The respective regional working groups will review the historic and current status of black bear resources, prepare conservation/management purpose statements, define management/conservation goals, identify and prioritize important gaps in the knowledge relating to bears, and develop actions and strategies to implement goals.
- Bailey, V. 1905.
- N. Am. Fauna No. 25: Biological survey of Texas. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Biological Survey. U.S. Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 222pp.
- Doan-Crider, D. and E.C. Hellgren. 1996.
- Population characteristics and winter ecology of black bears in Coahuila, Mexico. J. Wildl. Manag. 60 (2): 398-407.