Subspecies may leave endangered list
“There’s clear evidence that since the species was listed as threatened on the endangered species list that the population numbers have increased across the state. They now occupy areas that they previously were not found. These are indications they are on their way to recovery.” Jared Laufenberg, doctoral student at the University of Tennessee
Twenty years after the Louisiana black bear was placed on the endangered species list as a threatened subspecies, the animal has made enough of a comeback to prompt a movement to remove it from the list.
State and federal officials are preparing to make that decision at the beginning of 2014, years ahead of the original estimated delisting target of 2025.
Data suggest that subpopulations of the bear in the state now total around 500. Though there were no concrete population numbers when the bear was listed as threatened in 1992, it is clear the population was smaller, said Joseph Clark, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist and University of Tennessee adjunct associate professor.
“Officials didn’t know how many bears were there but they knew the habitat had been reduced, thus restricting the numbers, and that was the primary reason for listing,” he said.
Clark was asked by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in 2006 to develop research criteria to determine if requirements to delist the bear set forth in a recovery plan in 1995 had been met.
“When any species is listed, a recovery plan is written,” said Maria Davidson, manager of LDWF’s Large Carnivore Program. “Within that recovery plan, they cite delisting criteria: What needs to be met before they delist.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan requires at least two subpopulations be established in the Tensas and Atchafalaya river basins, creation of immigration and emigration corridors, and protection of the habitat.
There has been significant work done to help meet the goals, Clark said. There are three growing or stable subpopulations in the two river basins, and habitat restoration efforts are ongoing.
Members of the Fish and Wildlife Service, LDWF and USGS will make a decision after analyzing a study prepared by Jared Laufenberg, a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee who is compiling data from various universities and agencies.
“It’s probably the first time that the data collected from all these agencies is going to be compiled together in what hopes to be a more unified analysis, which can better answer the questions we have about whether or not the bears are sustainable in Louisiana,” Laufenberg said.
He is also relying on data he helped collect with research teams led by Clark.
“There’s clear evidence that since the species was listed as threatened on the endangered species list that the population numbers have increased across the state,” Laufenberg said. “They now occupy areas that they previously were not found. These are indications they are on their way to recovery.”
Davidson said limited hunting seasons will be used as a part of population control measures, once the Louisiana black bear is delisted.
“We want it to be viable,” Davidson said. “You don’t want 5,000 bears crammed into Pointe Coupee Parish. So, there is a point at which you want a population to stabilize and remain at a certain number. When that will be and for each one is going to vary.”
Jonathan Olivier is a student at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU.