Missouri probably has always had a small population of black bears, almost all of them in the big woods of the southern part of the state. In the last few years, their numbers seem to be growing rapidly, and in some southern counties reports of bear sightings have become pretty common.
The state’s Department of Conservation is presently conducting a long-term study to determine just how many bears we have and how rapidly their numbers are growing.
This is just the latest spe-cies of large predator, once thought eliminated from the Show-Me State, that now appears to perhaps have never been completely extirpated and is now increasing in numbers.
Just 25 years ago we were told that there were no bobcats north of the Missouri River and now bobcats are plentiful all over north Missouri. We were also told that there were no mountain lions in Missouri, but there have been 14 confirmed sightings in the last year. Bobcats, lions, and now black bears have become the latest big predator to increase in numbers and spread to new locations in Missouri.
Once again we’re told that this latest large predator, black bears, likely will be found only in south Missouri, as they like “big woods” and we don’t have much of that up north here.
It’s believed any increase in black bear population mostly is due to a successful bear reintroduction program in Arkansas in the 1960s; some apparently are moving north to find less-crowded locations. There is also evidence that an isolated population of native Missouri bears survived in southwest Missouri.
Bears, wherever they are found, are usually creatures of big tracts of forest, so we may never have many of them here in the agricultural country of north Missouri. But there’s always a possibility of some of them passing through looking for a less bear-crowded location. There have been a couple of confirmed sightings north of the Missouri River and, several years ago, a black bear with two cubs was sighted by several different people near Fountain Grove. Recently I heard an unconfirmed report of someone seeing a bear track in a creek bed in north Missouri.
Area residents may never see a bear here, but if they take a camping vacation to the beautiful Ozarks, or go trout fishing in south Missouri, there’s a good chance they may happen on a bear there. MDC bear specialist Jeff Beringer advises that we treat bears with respect, as they are large, powerful creatures, and can be dangerous if they feel threatened. If you’re camping, your food needs to be secured and kept at a distance from your campsite if possible. If you don’t have a campsite, keep your food and trash locked in your vehicle. You might also think twice before taking a pet dog or cat with you.
Avoid surprising a bear by making noise.