Historically abundant throughout Mississippi, American black bears (Ursus americanus) have declined due to habitat loss and overharvest. By the early 1900s, the bear population was estimated at <12 individuals, and Mississippi closed black bear hunting in 1932. However, habitat loss continued and by 1980 suitable habitat was estimated at 20% (20,234 km2) of historic levels (101,171 km2) with the decline continuing. Although black bear abundance is currently unknown, a recent increase in occurrence reports and documented reproduction suggests the population may be increasing. There have been 21 reported nuisance complaints since 2006, of which 7 were apiary damage. Additionally, 31 bear mortalities were reported since 1972; 80% were human caused. Government and private organizations have emphasized education on bear ecology and human–bear coexistence, while habitat restoration through land retirement programs (e.g., Conservation Reserve and Wetland Reserve Programs) will improve habitat abundance and suitability for black bears. Black bears are naturally recolonizing Mississippi with current state agency management directed at supporting population reestablishment through habitat conservation and species protection.
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Vol. 23 • No. 2