Volume 4, Number 10 - Winter 1972-73

Bears in Missouri’s Ozarks Growl With Arkansas Accent
by Joel M. Vance

JEFFERSON CITY — It appears that if Smokey the Bear steps out of the woods in Missouri and cautions against forest fires, he’ll talk with an Arkansas accent.

Bears are not strangers to Missouri—they were here in historic times and there may always have been a few lurking in the dim recesses of the deep Ozarks.

But the savage timbering of the Ozarks in the early years of the 1900s pretty well eliminated the black bear, as well as turkeys and deer. The deer and turkeys have come back.

So have the bears — but they came mainly from Arkansas and, for the time being, that’s the way it’s going to stay.

In response to a request to stock bears in the Ozarks, the Department of Conservation made a careful study of the situation and finally recommended not stocking the animals at least for the present.

Frank Sampson, game biologist for the Department, did the research and brought together the facts in a well-documented and highly readable report which has been presented to the Conservation Commission.

"The 11-year restocking experience of Arkansas with negligible results," Sampson says, "pretty well speaks for itself. Whether Missouri could do better is, of course, not known. However, as an apparent beneficiary, at least in part, of bears released in Arkansas


that traveled north, Missouri now has an initial stocking of a number of bears.

"Some of these have moved around considerably. What seems to be our best available bear range now is stocked to some extent. The occurence of cub bears indicates reproduction. It appears that, given time, the bears themselves will serve as indicators as to how suitable our bear habitat may be for them, providing they don’t run afoul of too many violators."

Bears are not legal game in Missouri and anyone killing one is subject to arrest. But of the 54 reports of bears Sampson got from Game Division personnel alone, 12 were killed.

"That indicates some disregard for the protection of these animals." he says. "Since it cost Arkansas some $600-700 each for its several hundred bears released between 1957-1968, it wouldn’t be much fun to stock the animals only to have them killed."

Because Arkansas didn’t tag most of its bears, there’s no way to tell definitely if the Missouri bears came from there, but the rise in Missouri bear reports correlates pretty will with the Arkansas stocking program. There was one Arkansas tagged bear killed in Taney County in 1968.

The Arkansas bears were live-trapped near Ely and Winton, Minn., and released in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas and the Quachita Mountains in western Arkansas.

"Bears moved in all directions from the release sites," said one Arkansas game manager. "One bear was known to move 300 airline miles in 70 days. To date, only 10-15 of the estimated 400 bears have been accounted for."

There have been 18 cubs reported in Missouri, and the sightings occur both in north and south Missouri, but mostly in the deep Ozarks—Carter, Ozark, and Taney counties had the most reports.

Oddly, even considering the many miles of heavily wooded hills, Missouri does not appear to have good bear habitat.

"In stacking up the territorial requirements, diversity and abundance of fruiting trees and shrubs needed, as well as range undisturbed by humans," Sampson says, "There is little doubt that what Missouri has to offer is, at the very best, highly dubious in supporting anything like a huntable population."

Bears are omnivorous, but even though they will eat about anything, they like the fruits that abound in good bear range and don’t in Missouri. In addition, bears in Missouri would hibernate little, if at all, meaning they would need food in the winter when wildlife food is scarce.

Perhaps the most inhibitive factor of all is that bears need large blocks of land where there is little human activity.

"In West Virginia," Sampson says, "they consider an approximate area of 50 square miles almost completely undisturbed by humans as minimal breeding range. Among several states with native black bear populations, biologists in Maine found only 1 bear per 5.6 square miles of range. In Virginia it was 1 bear per 3.9 square miles. In Michigan’s highest bear population in the Upper Penninsula the density was 1 bear per 3.4 square miles."


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