WRP Sustaining Valuable Resources - Louisiana Black Bear Makes a Comeback
Louisiana Black Bear once was considered abundant, but in the 1950s it reached its all time lows with only six parishes reporting sightings. These numbers were down from the 1890s with 17 parishes that once reported sightings. In 1950, estimates showed that 80 to 120 bears remained in Louisiana, and were restricted only to the Atchafalaya and Tensas River Basins. Black Bears require relatively large contiguous areas of bottomland hardwood forest, which were common to the Mississippi River Delta. However, these large tracts of forest began to disappear with the improvements in farming and land clearing methods. Of the original 24 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, less than 5 million acres remained in 1980. In an effort to increase the reducing numbers of bears, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) began a restocking program. Between the years 1964 and 1967, 161 bear were caught in Cook County, Minnesota and were released in the Tensas and Atchafalaya River Basins.
Due to high mortality and dispersal the restocking was considered a failure. Reversing habitat loss stepped forward as the key to increasing bear numbers. One of the methods to reduce habitat loss is the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). WRP restores cropland, former and degraded wetlands and riparian buffers. This restoration consists of planting hardwood trees best suited for the site, hydrology restoration and creating small openings which encourage the growth of desirable herbaceous growth. Through restoration efforts such as WRP, bear numbers are now estimated at 500 to 700 black bears in Louisiana. WRP is a voluntary program that is administered through the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).