Black bears spotted in Cherokee Nation
Black bears have been migrating from
Arkansas’ Ouachita and Ozark National Forests into eastern Oklahoma and
| A North American Black Bear takes a dip in a pool
of water at the Pittsburgh Zoo Friday, April 30, 2010. AP PHOTO BY GENE J.
By WILL CHAVEZ
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Black bears are increasingly being spotted in northeastern Oklahoma and within the Cherokee Nation.
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation research shows most of the state’s bear population is in southeastern Oklahoma in Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha counties. However, in the past year, bears have been sited in Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah and Delaware counties.
“Our bears in Oklahoma came from Arkansas in the late (19)50s and early (19)60s because that’s when Arkansas reintroduced black bears in the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains, which of course border and go into Oklahoma,” Micah Holmes, ODWC information supervisor, said.
About 250 black bears from Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada were brought to Arkansas, Holmes said, and the bears did “real well.” The bears eventually moved into southwestern Missouri and southeastern Oklahoma, which have mountainous areas.
Holmes said bears have flourished so well in Arkansas the state has had a black bear hunting season since 1980. The bear population is apparently also doing well in Oklahoma because in 2009, for the first time, Oklahoma hunters were allowed to hunt black bear. There was a 20-bear limit, and the hunt occurred only in Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties, with 19 bears harvested.
Most research done on black bears in Oklahoma has been in southeast Oklahoma, Holmes said, but the ODWC plans to conduct research in other parts of the state. He said the ODWC recognizes a growing bear population in northeastern Oklahoma.
Mike Rogers, a CN citizen who lives near Marble City in northern Sequoyah County, encountered a black bear while deer hunting in 2009.
“I had one come right underneath my deer stand last fall. It was definitely an adult, full-grown bear,” he said. “I just heard a twig snap and looked over expecting to see a deer and it was a big mature bear coming down the game trail that I was hunting on. He moved on down it and never even realized I was there.”
Rogers said it’s the only bear he’s ever seen in the wild, but he knows of people seeing bears “all of the time” between Marble City and Stilwell in Adair County, which is north of Sequoyah County.
Holmes said ODWC officials believe there are approximately 450 bears in southeastern Oklahoma, but had no estimates for northeastern Oklahoma.
“We identified 161 different bears across three counties, LeFlore, Pushmataha and Latimer, with DNA analysis,” Holmes said. “The average sow in Oklahoma has two cubs, every other year, so that tells us right there the population is growing. Some sows had three cubs. The bear population is healthy and thriving.”
Another black bear hunt will take place this fall in Oklahoma. The state received criticism for allowing the hunt, but Holmes said the ODWC’s goal is to provide as many opportunities as possible for hunters without negatively impacting a resource, in this instance the bear population.
“We want the bear population to continue to grow and to be healthy, but if there’s an opportunity for hunters to use the resource, we want to be able to do that too,” Holmes said.
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The black bear is an intelligent animal with the ability to learn quickly. Although not considered dangerous, their behavior can be unpredictable. Black bears, however, can survive surprisingly well around humans.
The black bear has an acute sense of hearing and smell, but has relatively poor eyesight. They often stand up in order to see and smell better. Bears walk on the entire soles of their feet, which accounts for their lumbering-like appearance when walking. Although bears may not look like they could move quickly, they can run at speeds of 35 mph and are excellent climbers and swimmers.
Weights of adults range from 200 to 600 pounds for males and 100 to 300 for females. Both male and female black bears mature in about 3-1/2 years and may live for 25 years.
Black bears are powerful animals with few natural enemies. Despite their strength, they are remarkably tolerant of humans. Accounts of bears injuring humans are not common.
Interactions between bears and human are usually uneventful. In many cases, people are unaware that a bear is nearby because it quietly moves away when approached.
Black bears are normally secretive animals, avoiding people. When they become bold and approach human dwellings, they are most likely hungry. The behavior is most common in late spring and early summer before most forest foods are ripe.
When nuts and berries are in short supply, some bears may be quick to overcome their natural fear of people in their search for food, especially if they associate people with a food supply. When this occurs, foods should be kept away from bears and certainly they should not be fed. Usually a bear will leave the area if given time and a way out. Yelling or making loud noises will also help to alert the animal and will encourage it to leave.
– Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation