Yesterday, the Shreveport Times had a follow-up article on the plans of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate 1,195,821 acres for critical habitat for the Louisiana black bear.
The article included a link to the USFWS insert in the March 10 Federal Register, which tells you every thing you need to know about the project.
The designation is the culmination of effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Black Bear Conservation Committee–a consortium of state, federal, and private conservation agencies and private landowners–shared the goal of restoring and protecting large blocks of forest, creating corridors through which the black bear could range unimpeded.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Louisiana black bear as a threatened species in 1992, which has lost habitat to soybeans and cotton. Black with a brown muzzle and a white blaze on its chest, the male Louisiana black bear ranges across 20,000 acres of bottomland forest in search of food, escape cover, den sites, and mates, making the 13,168 -acre Bayou Cocodrie Wildlife Refuge too small to sustain a large number of black bears, even though the female holds to 5,000 acres. Sightings of the bear in the refuge are rare. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that between 100 and 120 bears live in the 70,000-acre Tensas NWR. Between the two lies little of the contiguous forest needed by the black bear for high quality cover. In short, the bear requires more room. Hence, the need to designate 1,195,821 acres as critical bear habitat.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century the Louisiana black bear roamed the Tensas basin in northeast Louisiana and the upper and lower Atchafalaya basins in central and southern Louisiana. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Black Bear Conservation Committee identified private lands that could be included in a corridor that would connect the two ranges.
Such a corridor would span the Tensas Basin between the Mississippi and Macon Ridge, the Red River basin between the Mississippi and the Black Rivers, and would occupy the Atchafalaya Floodway in the Atchafalaya basin. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would provide and does provide economic incentives to farmers, such the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program to create conservation easements to protect existing tracts of private forest and to return farmland to forests. Finally, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the committee planned to move female bears onto the Bayou Cocodrie refuge in order to establish breeding populations.
In order to live in such close proximity to human activity, the black bear must have a well-managed bottomland hardwood forest. Thickets of grasses, thistles, blackberries, and fruiting vines–bear food–take root in small, elongated clear-cuts and on the forest edge. Elderberry, devil’s walking stick, pokeweed, French mulberry, red mulberry, and wild grapes thrive in scattered openings in the forest canopy. Ants and termites, high protein snacks for bears, swarm in decomposing logs. In the heavy cover found deep under the forest canopy, the bear dozes in daybeds and dens, fashions ground dens next to fallen logs or thick briar patches, or hibernates in the hollows of cypress or tupelo trees along rivers, bayous, and sloughs.
Bright, shy, and secretive, the Louisiana black bear is a carnivore, but not an active predator. In the forest it feeds on acorns and berries at all levels of the forest from the floor to the treetops; in the fields it grazes on corn, wheat, oats, and sugarcane; around populated areas it raids beehives for honey, trash cans for garbage, and Fido’s bowl for kibbles. It sticks to fruits and berries in the spring after it emerges from hibernation, but as it prepares for hibernation in the fall, it eats high calorie acorns and pecans to build fat. In areas where the forest is very fragmented, corn is important throughout the year.
The bear slows down in the late fall and early winter as it prepares for denning. The pregnant female is the first to seek out den sites, usually in a hollow tree over water, where she is secure and inaccessible. The male is less picky and will bed down in one den and, if disturbed, move on to another. While not a true hibernator, the bear spends the winter in a state of torpor. If, while asleep, the bear senses the presence of humans, a flood, or an extreme change in the weather, it will rouse itself and seek out a new den. While it sleeps, it does not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate, but recycles its waste through unique metabolic and physiological processes. [i]
[i] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge: Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan,”
March 2001, 17-18, 23-24 http://library.fws.gov/CCPs/bayoucocodrie_draft.pdf; Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Biodiversity Conservation, “Conservation of Migratory and Transboundary Species: Species of Common Conservation Concern in North American, Montreal, October 18, 2000, 51, http://www.cec.org/files/pdf/BIODIVERSITY/SCCC-Web-e_EN.PDF;
Black Bear Conservation Committee, “Louisiana Black Bear Facts,” http://www.bbcc.org/lablackbears/lablackbear.htm.