Black bear activity in the Hill Country and South Texas along the Rio Grande from Del Rio to below Laredo is increasing, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.
Though historically it has been very rare for bears to be sighted south or east of Val Verde County, so far in 2012 there have been a dozen such sightings.
“This is likely a result of a growing number of bears in Mexico dispersing and searching for food after severe droughts and wildfires,” says TPWD biologist Jonah Evans of Alpine, the department’s bear coordinator. “Whether these sightings signify a permanent recolonization of Central and South Texas remains to be seen.”
While black bears are native to all of Texas, in the early 1900’s, heavy hunting and trapping completely eliminated them from the state. Currently, the only established breeding populations are in the Big Bend area of West Texas.
“Black bears are generally not a risk to humans,” Evans says. “But they can become a nuisance if they gain a taste for human food, pet food, or trash. We’ve recently received several reports of bears tipping over and damaging deer feeders and a few raiding trash cans along the border.”
Evans says the department’s goal is for people and bears to coexist peacefully.
“By eliminating food rewards, we eliminate most of the problems,” he says. “Many communities in bear country have effectively adapted to live with bears, but it takes everyone working together and doing their part.”
The most effective strategy is for residents along the border to secure their trash, bird feeders, and pet food, so bears don’t become habituated to easy meals, Evans notes.
“This cannot be overstated,” he continues. “The saying ’A fed bear is a dead bear’ is absolutely true. If a bear becomes habituated and food-conditioned, there is little we can do to save it. It will likely have to be destroyed.”
TPWD is asking for people to report all bear sightings. If a bear is causing a nuisance, TPWD will work with residents to secure attractants and may attempt to haze the bear. In extreme situations, the bear may be relocated. Biologists are also available to give talks and educational programs on living with bears. Since black bears are a threatened species in Texas, they cannot be legally hunted or harmed.
If you see a bear, please report it to Jonah Evans at (432) 837-2051 x228.
Bear activity reported so far this year includes:
- Maverick County — Jan. 26 — Sighting
- Starr County — July 30 — Relocated
- Kimble County — Aug. 6 — Sighting
- Menard County — Aug. 8 — Sighting
- Schleicher County — Aug. 8 — Sighting
- Sutton County Aug. 12 — Sighting
- Webb County — Aug. 27 — Killed on road by vehicle
- Uvalde County Aug. 31 — Sighting
- Kinney County Sept. 25 — Sighting
- Maverick County — Oct. 14 — Relocated
- Val Verde County — Nov. 3 — Sighting
- Edwards County — Nov. 5 — Sighting
Image courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife