On March 10, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) would be delisted under provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The delisting follows a comprehensive scientific review of the species by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Following 24 years of dedicated recovery efforts by a broad array of partners, this significant conservation success further demonstrates the value of the ESA for recovering imperiled species, according to the Wildlife Management Institute.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt brought fame and attention to this iconic species by refusing to shoot a bear that was tied to a tree, which he felt violated his “Fair Chase” hunting principles. This incident was featured in a cartoon in The Washington Post, sparking the idea for the creation of the “Teddy” bear, named after the President that saved him.
In 1992, there were as few as 150 bears existing in three known breeding subpopulations that were confined to the bottomland hardwood forests of Louisiana in the Tensas and Upper and Lower Atchafalaya River basins. The primary threats to the survival of the Louisiana black bear included habitat loss, degradation, and human-related mortality. Evaluation of these threats and their impacts on the bear led to listing under the ESA. Following protection and proactive conservation strategies, those subpopulations have now grown in number, expanded in range, and demonstrated increasing growth rates.
“President Theodore Roosevelt would have really enjoyed why we are gathered here today,” Secretary Jewell said. “Working together across private and public lands with so many partners embodies the conservation ethic he stood for when he established the National Wildlife Refuge System as part of the solution to address troubling trends for the nation’s wildlife. As I said last spring when the delisting proposal was announced, the Louisiana black bear is another success story for the Endangered Species Act.”
The protection of the majority of imperiled species lies in the hands of private landowners, particularly in the southeastern United States. Louisiana black bears primarily occupy private lands in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi. The USFWS, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries worked with farmers to voluntarily restore almost a half million acres of bottomland hardwood forests in priority areas for conservation. Using conservation easements, the agencies worked with farmers to restore habitat on difficult-to-farm lands. This strategic approach later evolved into the Working Lands for Wildlife partnership between the USFWS, NRCS and private landowners to conserve wildlife habitats.
“Growing up in the Sportsman’s Paradise, I’m proud to join in the announcement of the recovery of the Louisiana black bear,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said. “The resurrection of this iconic symbol of our nation and Louisiana shows the value of science and collaborative research. It also represents a commitment to conservation with so many willing partners from private landowners to state and federal agencies, universities and non-governmental organizations coming together to make sure the Louisiana black bear will be around for many generations to come.”
The USFWS proposed to delist the Louisiana black bear in May 2015 after determining the recovery criteria, as defined in the 1995 Louisiana Black Bear Recovery Plan, had been met and threats to the bear were reduced or eliminated. Through these efforts, the USFWS now estimates that 500-750 bears live across the species’ current range where successful recovery efforts are allowing breeding populations to expand. The delisting is accompanied by the release of a monitoring plan that will help ensure that the future of the bear remains secure.
Although not without its problems, the ESA continues to be a critical tool for conserving the nation’s most at-risk wildlife. The ESA has saved many of the species listed from the brink of extinction and has served as the critical safety net for wildlife that Congress intended when it passed the law 40 years ago.
Click here for more information about the Louisiana black bear.