Bears migrating into East Texas at growing rate (2023)

Bears migrating into East Texas at growing rate

November 4, 2009

Dallas Morning News

Mike Ford won't forget the first black bear he saw near his home in Red River County, about 120 miles east of Dallas. It was the middle of a hot summer day in 2007. Ford, a former SMU quarterback raised in Mesquite, was driving along a dirt road when he noticed a black animal well ahead of his truck.

"I first thought it was a turkey because we've got lots of wild turkeys in this area and they're pretty dark colored," Ford said. "Then I saw that the animal was too big for a turkey and I figured it was a wild hog but that didn't look right, either. As I got within about 200 yards, I thought I was seeing a black calf.

"Then it moved and there was no doubt what it was. I've seen lots of black bears while I was fishing and hunting in the Rocky Mountains, but I didn't expect to see one in northeast Texas."

As wild bears spread into eastern Texas from neighboring Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, more Texas residents can expect bear encounters. Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Ricky Maxey has logged reports of 14 bear sightings in the last year.

That's a record number but Maxey wonders if it translates to more bears or merely a heightened awareness from the public, which understands the importance of documenting the animals. Most sightings are like Ford's experience - from a vehicle at a distance.

Outdoor enthusiasts will just have to put up with the bears, protected from Texas hunters. Deer hunting season starts Saturday and with moderate temperatures conducive to increased hiking and camping, more Texans will be in the woods. Curious and intelligent with an insatiable appetite for almost any fruit, vegetable or meat, bears can be highly mischievous.

Nathan Garner, TP&W district wildlife biologist for the Tyler area, said he has two reports that were up close and personal, but both witnesses declined to be interviewed for this story. One encounter occurred not far from the Neches River near the proposed National Wildlife Refuge site in Cherokee County. The other was in the Sulphur River area. Garner said close encounters with East Texas bears are very rare.

Maxey credits habitat conditions for the erratic increase in bear sightings reported to the state agency. When conditions are lush and there's plenty to eat, bears are less visible. In the 1980s, there were five East Texas bear sightings. That increased to 34 in the 1990s and 49 since the most recent turn of the century.

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Since 2000, bear sightings were documented in 23 East Texas counties, and the bruins are showing up more often on remote game cameras used by hunters to monitor deer feeder activity.

"A black bear is essentially a 200-pound raccoon," Maxey said. "Bears have a tremendous sense of smell, and most of their waking hours are spent following their noses to a food source. The food source is often corn or other bait that hunters use to attract deer."

Twelve of the counties where bears have been seen in the last nine years border Oklahoma, Arkansas or Louisiana. Five others are one county removed from the border with those neighboring states, lending credence to the theory that bears are migrating into East Texas.

No confrontations between bears and people have been reported, but encounters are most likely during deer season, when hunters spend a lot of time in the woods. Maxey cautions hunters that bears are strictly protected by law.

Since black feral hogs are sometimes mistaken for bears, hunters must be absolutely certain of their target when hog hunting. It would be less expensive to travel to Canada and pay a hunting outfitter than to be convicted of killing a Texas bear.

Maxey said the bears in Red River County are probably young males forced out of Oklahoma by mature males.

Maxey added that the only bear killed by a car in East Texas was a young male run over on Interstate 30 near Mount Vernon in May 1999.

Texas officials have no idea how many bears have drifted into East Texas, but Chris Comer believes the number is small. Comer is an associate wildlife professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. For three years, he's overseen graduate student studies designed to quantify bear numbers and habitat quality.

"We had a graduate student in Red River County who put out more than 350 hair snares to collect hair samples from a bear that brushes up against them," Comer said. "He only got one hair sample. I suspect the number is much less than 100 bears and possibly no more than 20."

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East Texas black bears were common in the 1800s and Comer said a bear was reportedly killed in Sabine County near the Louisiana border as recently as 1964. Bears were hunted for meat, their fat was used as cooking grease and their hides were tanned. The large animals were also viewed as threats to settlers' livestock and crops.

The Big Thicket of southeast Texas was the region's last stronghold for bears. Still largely undeveloped, the Big Thicket is a vast expanse of bottomland hardwood forest north of Beaumont.

In Hardin County, "Uncle Bud" Bracken was considered the bear hunting champ, with 305 hides accumulated during his career in the 19th century. Two hunters in Liberty County reported killing 182 bears from 1883-1885. All their hunting occurred in a 10-mile radius of the Trinity River drainage. Another prominent Big Thicket bear hunter was Ben Lilley, who reportedly killed 118 of the animals in 1906.

Because of shrinking East Texas habitat, black bears will never return to those numbers, but the animals are thriving in southeastern Oklahoma. Joe Hemphill has been monitoring bears for Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for 20 years, and he conservatively estimates as many as 800 bears in the four-county area across the Texas border from Red River County.

Oklahoma had its first modern bear season in October with a strict quota of 20 bears. Archery hunters bagged 16 bruins during the initial 23 days of hunting. Then the season was expanded to muzzle-loading firearms. The biggest bear reported by an archery hunter weighed 345 pounds after it was dressed and quartered. Its live weight was more than 400 pounds.

Hemphill received more than 40 nuisance bear reports last summer. He managed to trap and relocate three of the problem bears.

"Most of the nuisance bears are young males," he said, "but we're trapping more nuisance females, and that seems to indicate an expanding bear population. People want to make pets out of these bears, and that's a bad idea. Bears are powerful animals, and they can be very dangerous when they lose their fear of people."

Part of the Red River County ranch that Mike Ford owns has been in his family for more than 100 years.

"It's exciting to think that the bears were here when my family first owned this land and now they're coming back," Ford said. "The landowners that I've talked with are excited about it. They appreciate all the native animals, whether they're turkeys or bears."

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BLACK BEARS AT A GLANCE

What: A large omnivorous mammal once native to most of Texas.

Size: Adult bears are five to six feet long and weigh 150 to 400 pounds.

Diet: Bears eat just about anything, including leaves, nuts, berries, roots, fruits, tubers, insects and meat. About 90 percent of their diet is vegetarian.

Habitat: Bears can survive from the deserts of the Trans-Pecos region to the deep forests of the Piney Woods. They den in hollow trees, brush piles, thickets, rock crevices or caves.

Personality: Intelligent, shy and secretive. Most bears work hard to avoid contact with humans. Mothers with cubs are protective of their offspring.

Reproduction: Females mature at 3 to 5 years. On average, they give birth to two cubs every other year.

Life expectancy: About 15 to 18 years.

Home range: About 20,000 acres for a male, 5,000 acres for a female.

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Speed: A bear can run as fast as 35 mph for short bursts.

Texas status: Threatened. Bears are protected by state law. The fine for killing a bear is as high as $10,000 plus restitution fees.

Population trend: Bears are moving back into Texas from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mexico.

IF YOU ENCOUNTER A BEAR

  • Talk in a calm manner while backing slowly away. Do not make direct eye contact.
  • Do not run. This may trigger a bear's chase instincts.
  • If a bear approaches you, stand your ground, raise your arms, backpack or jacket to appear larger. Yell at the bear.
  • If attacked, fight the bear aggressively to let the animal know you are not easy prey. Do not play dead.

PREVENTING BEAR CONFRONTATIONS

  • Never feed bears. Feeding teaches the bears to expect food from humans and is essentially a death sentence for the animal and potentially dangerous for any humans the habituated bear encounters.
  • Keep your camp clean with food stored away from tent or trailer. • Hunters should discard remains of processed game far away from the campsite.
  • Hang automatic game feeders beyond the reach of bears.
  • Deer corn in piles or open feeders attract more bears.
  • Switch from corn to soybeans for wildlife bait to attract fewer bears.

BEAR INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET

TO REPORT AN EAST TEXAS BEAR SIGHTING

Call 903-679-9821 or 409-384-6894 or e-mail ricky.maxey@tpwd.state.tx.us.

EAST TEXAS COUNTIES WITH DOCUMENTED BEAR SIGHTINGS SINCE 2000

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Angelina, Bowie, Cass, Cherokee, Franklin, Grayson, Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Lamar, Marion, Montgomery, Morris, Newton, Orange, Panola, Polk, Red River, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Wood.

By Ray Sasser, Dallas Morning News
Contact:
University Marketing Communications
(936) 468-2605

FAQs

Are there bears in East Texas? ›

The American black bear and the subspecies Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) compose this currently non-residential population in East Texas. Researchers believe these bears are primarily males searching for food, territory, or females with which to mate.

Why are black bears coming back to Texas? ›

The Rio Grande, a decidedly political border for us, hardly operates in the same way for these animals. Climate change is one reason for the bears' return. In the bone-dry Trans-Pecos region, increasingly severe and frequent droughts can shape a bear's migratory pattern.

Are there grizzly bears in East Texas? ›

Extinct. The grizzly was probably an extralimital species in Texas. Only one specimen has been reported (see below), and only a few fossil records are known.

How many bears does Texas have? ›

Bears are rare in Texas but can be found in the southwest counties of the state. There are bears in Texas, but they are rare. There is a population of Black Bears living in the Big Bend National Park. National Park Services estimates there are 30-40 Black bears living there.

Are there mountain lions in East Texas? ›

Mountain Lion (Puma, Cougar)

The mountain lion ranges over much of the Trans-Pecos of West Texas, the southern two-thirds of the Hill Country in Central Texas, and a large portion of the South Texas brushlands as well as in limited areas in North Central Texas.

What part of Texas have bears? ›

Both are found in West Texas in desert scrub or woodland habitats within scattered mountain ranges, predominantly the Chisos and Guadalupe Mountains. Both subspecies are state-listed as endangered in Texas. The Louisiana Black Bear (subspeciesU. a.

Why are there no bears in Texas? ›

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, black bears are native to all of Texas, but in the early 1900s, heavy hunting and trapping eliminated almost all of them from the state.

What state has the most bears? ›

Alaska. Alaska has a larger population of Black Bears than any other U.S. state by far with an estimated 100,000 or more. They are widely distributed throughout Alaska's forests. Others bears found in Alaska are Brown Bears and Polar Bears.

What states do not have bears? ›

Bears are not common in many states. But only Hawaii has no bears. I have seen wild bears in many states that they say don't have them.

Can you shoot black bear in Texas? ›

It is a violation of law to kill a black bear in Texas, with penalties of up to $10,000, added civil restitution fines, jail time and loss of all hunting privileges.

Are there moose in Texas? ›

Moose Don't Live in Texas (Or How Global Warming Will Change the Midwest) Illinois and Michigan.

Does Tyler Texas have bears? ›

Grin And Bear It: Black bear sightings have become a near-yearly occurrence in East Texas | Columnists | tylerpaper.com.

What state has the most bear attacks? ›

Alaska is the US state with the most bear attacks.

The most updated bear attacks in Alaska statistics reveal that Alaska accounts for 29.6% of all fatal bear attacks in the US. Alaska is one of the few places in the country that has all three species of North American bears living in it: Black Bears. Grizzly Bears.

Is eating black bear good? ›

As omnivores, bears often carry the larvae of a nasty parasite, Trichina spiralis. Eating undercooked bear meat can cause trichinosis, which can cause severe sickness or even death in humans. That's why bear is most often cooked in stews, chilis, braises, or in well-cooked sausage. Skip the medium-rare bear steak.

Does Texas have mountain lions? ›

In Texas, the Mountain Lion is found throughout the Trans-Pecos, as well as the brushlands of south Texas and portions of the Hill Country.

Are there black panthers in East Texas? ›

One of the most famous tales of cryptids across the great state of Texas is that of the black panther. Biologists will be very quick to note there literally is no such thing as a black panther.

Do black panthers live in East Texas? ›

Although the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has stated that black panthers do not exist in the Lone Star State, those who have spotted something dark, sleek, and strange (which a TPWD biologist has said is more likely a black hog or an otter) are filled with fear at the sight of it.

Are there black cougars in East Texas? ›

The general assumption with “black panther” sightings in Texas is that these are black or melanistic cougars. The problem is there has never been a melanistic cougar observed by science either in a zoo, captive setting, killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or otherwise positively identified.

Does Texas have wolves? ›

Historically, gray wolves were found over the western 2/3 of the state. Today, none remain in Texas. Its status in Mexico is unknown, and it may be extirpated (no longer exists in Mexico).

How big are mountain lions in Texas? ›

Its size (total length) ranges from about 6 1/2 feet in females to as much as 8 1/2 feet in males. Male cougars weigh between 100–150 pounds, and females weigh between 45–96 pounds. In the wild, cougars live about 10 to 11 years. Their range in Texas is primarily in the west, south, and central regions.

How many mountain lions are in Texas? ›

While the famously large land mass of Texas could easily support over 6,000 mountain lions, the actual population is likely much lower than that due to overhunting and human encroachment into their habitat areas. There is no official population estimate for Texas lions.

Can I have a black bear as a pet? ›

Is It Even Legal to Own a Bear? Surprisingly enough, there are at least six states in which bear ownership is legal: Nevada, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina. You may be able to own bears in other states, but you'll need to get a special permit first.

Do black bears hibernate in Texas? ›

Black bears do not enter true hibernation in Big Bend. Due to the area's mild climate and the availability of food, black bears are dormant for only three to four months (January–March) each year.

What to do if you see a black bear while hunting? ›

Never run away from or approach him. Make yourself look as big as possible by spreading your arms or, better yet, a coat. Make as much noise as possible by yelling, banging pots and pans or using other noisemaking devices. If the bear approaches and you have bear spray, spray the bear as he approaches.

Which bear attacks humans the most? ›

The number of black bear attacks on humans is higher than those of brown bears, though this is largely because black bears outnumber brown bears rather than being more aggressive. Compared to brown bear attacks, violent encounters with black bears rarely lead to serious injury and death.

What state has the best bear hunting? ›

Alaska is the holy grail of black bear hunting. Not only can you shoot up to three bears per year, as long as they're in the appropriate designated areas, but also you can hunt spring and fall - with dogs, over bait, even from a boat or a snow machine provided that you're at a complete stop before shooting.

Does fire keep bears away? ›

Campfires, as warm, cozy, and safe as they make us feel, will not deter bears. But loud, off-key singing around a campfire will. The fact is, bears don't want an encounter with us any more than we want one with them. And noise is the best deterrent.

Are there bears in all 50 states? ›

The black bear is found in all provinces and territories in Canada excluding Prince Edward Island and in 40 of the 50 U.S states. There are about 900 thousand black bears throughout North America.

What state has most grizzly bears? ›

Alaska has the most grizzly bears. It is estimated that there are about 55,000 grizzly bears in North America. Of that, about 31,000 (56%) are found within Alaska. About 600 bears are found within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and 1000 bears in Northwestern Montana.

Are there Jaguars in Texas? ›

It is extremely unlikely that this cat occurs in Texas although a rare visit by a wanderer from Mexico is possible. Last verified Texas records date from the turn of the century. The Jaguar is now considered by most authorities to be extir- pated from the state.

Are there elk in Texas? ›

Historical evidence indicates that elk may have been present over much of Texas. By the late 1800 s, records indicate that elk were only present in the Guadalupe Mountains of far west Texas. Currently, free ranging elk exist over a large portion of west Texas and on high fence ranches throughout the state.

Are black bears aggressive? ›

It's normal to be somewhat alarmed if you come face-to-face with a black bear. But the reality is that black bears are rarely aggressive. Actual attacks by black bears are rare.

What animal only lives in Texas? ›

Texas recognizes three official mammals: the nine-banded armadillo, the Texas Longhorn, and the Mexican free-tailed bat.

Where are the biggest deer in Texas? ›

What part of Texas has the Biggest Bucks? The area that grows the largest mature bucks in Texas is the South Texas Plains. This is shown from Texas Parks and Wildlife harvest data across 15 years. The average score of a mature buck in South Texas is 134 inches.

Are there wild goats in Texas? ›

There are no seasonal restrictions on hunting the Texas Feral Goat, which makes it a suitable trophy year round. We typically let our hunters choose the method of hunting Trophy Feral Goat that they prefer.

What wildlife is in East Texas? ›

Tyler State Park is home to a number of East Texas animals, including white-tailed deer, raccoon, squirrel, fox, coyote and opossum. You might cross paths with an armadillo or a skunk. Reptiles such as snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs and toads live here, too.

Are there bears in Texas Piney Woods? ›

Bears entering from the northeast find themselves in the thick Piney Woods and forested bottomlands of the Red River.

Are there any bears in Northeast Texas? ›

He said, “There are no (resident) bears presently in Northeast Texas,” but he added that “we see bears dispersing out of Oklahoma and Arkansas. A few young males do come here in early summer.”

Does Tyler Texas have bears? ›

Grin And Bear It: Black bear sightings have become a near-yearly occurrence in East Texas | Columnists | tylerpaper.com.

Is there black panthers in East Texas? ›

One of the most famous tales of cryptids across the great state of Texas is that of the black panther. Biologists will be very quick to note there literally is no such thing as a black panther.

Are there wolves in East Texas? ›

Gray wolves were once found throughout North America. Historically, gray wolves were found over the western 2/3 of the state. Today, none remain in Texas.

Are there bears in Texas Piney Woods? ›

Bears entering from the northeast find themselves in the thick Piney Woods and forested bottomlands of the Red River.

Are there mountain lions in Texas? ›

In Texas, the Mountain Lion is found throughout the Trans-Pecos, as well as the brushlands of south Texas and portions of the Hill Country.

What wildlife is in East Texas? ›

Tyler State Park is home to a number of East Texas animals, including white-tailed deer, raccoon, squirrel, fox, coyote and opossum. You might cross paths with an armadillo or a skunk. Reptiles such as snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs and toads live here, too.

How many black bears are in Big Bend National Park? ›

There are approximately 30-40 black bears living in Big Bend. However, as with most creatures in a desert environment, fluctuations in their numbers can occur from time to time.

What big cats are in East Texas? ›

Texas is home to three main species of cats: mountain lions, bobcats, and ocelots, all three of which belong to the Felidae family. There are 31 species of cats in this family.

Are there wild jaguars in Texas? ›

The jaguar is extinct in Texas today. There are many records and sightings that date from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and this large cat actually was regarded as common in some areas. The most recent documented record from the state was in 1948 when the last jaguar was shot 4.8 km (3 mi.)

Are there black cougars in East Texas? ›

The general assumption with “black panther” sightings in Texas is that these are black or melanistic cougars. The problem is there has never been a melanistic cougar observed by science either in a zoo, captive setting, killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or otherwise positively identified.

Does Texas have 2022 wolves? ›

For now, there are no wolves in Texas. At one point, there were two wolf species in Texas: the southeastern red wolf and the gray wolf. There was also a subspecies of the gray wolf called the Mexican gray wolf. On March 11, 1967, gray wolves were listed as endangered.

Are there coyotes in East Texas? ›

Many hunters in east Texas generally perceive an abundance of coyotes (Canis latrans) as an important factor in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) management.

When was the last wolf seen in Texas? ›

After a century of persecution, poisonings, trapping and a great deal of ignorance, the last wolves were recorded in Arizona, New Mexico and in Texas in 1970.

How many mountain lions are in Texas? ›

While the famously large land mass of Texas could easily support over 6,000 mountain lions, the actual population is likely much lower than that due to overhunting and human encroachment into their habitat areas. There is no official population estimate for Texas lions.

Are there any black bears in Texas? ›

The black bear is a protected species and is still considered rare for the state of Texas, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife officials. Black bears have a protected status in Texas as they are still a threatened species and it's against the law to hunt, harass or kill them.

Is East Texas a rainforest? ›

The East Central Texas forests (33) is a small temperate broadleaf and mixed forests ecoregion almost entirely within the state of Texas, United States. The northern forests perimeter is partially within the southeast Oklahoma border.
...
East Central Texas forests
Habitat loss75%
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