The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced this week that it will be proposing the removal of the Louisiana black bear—one of the 16 subspecies of American black bear—from the list of threatened and endangered species. Louisiana black bears are found in parts of Louisiana, western Mississippi, and eastern Texas. The species is perhaps most famous for helping to coin the phrase “teddy bear” after President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a young Louisiana black bear during a hunt in 1902. Yet 90 years later, a combination of habitat loss and human-related mortality encouraged the USFWS to list the subspecies under the Endangered Species Act for its own protection.

“Today, after more than 20 years of collaborative research and recovery efforts, I’m proud to finally announce the recovery of the Louisiana black bear,” said Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in a press release. “With today’s announcement, we will finally start the process of removing the Louisiana black bear from the United States Threatened and Endangered Species List. This great announcement highlights the vital steps we’ve taken to protect such an iconic symbol of our great state, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done together to get here.”

The effort to safeguard the black bear’s future required collaboration between state and federal wildlife organizations, universities, private landowners, and conservationists. Over the past two decades, more than 750,000 acres of Louisiana black bear habitat was restored or received protective status, and biologists worked hard to establish additional subpopulations.

“The Louisiana black bear symbolizes how the Endangered Species Act can be a remarkably effective tool to protect and recover threatened and endangered species when we work in close partnership with states and other stakeholders,” US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in the same press release. “Across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, we have worked together with our partners to protect and restore habitat, reintroduce populations and reduce the threats to the bear. Today’s recovery of the bear is yet another success story of the Endangered Species Act.”

While the subspecies was never fully extirpated from Louisiana, population decline was so swift and pervasive that in 1986, experts estimated as few as 80 bears remained in the state. According to the USFWS, the most recent surveys estimated there to be between 400 to 700 Louisiana black bears alive today. It is currently the only black bear subspecies to be under federal protection.

Image courtesy Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

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