AGFC treks to track Ark. black bear population - KATV - Breaking News, Weather and Razorback Sports

AGFC treks to track Ark. black bear population

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After being nearly wiped out, the Arkansas black bear population is thriving.

Maintaining the delicate balance is assisted by more than 42 female black bears and their cubs.

Each year, biologists with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission make dozens of treks into the Ozark and Ouachita mountains searching for a needle in a haystack: bear dens nestled in the rocks and trees.

"This is obviously not the easiest location to get to but they will den in some places that are even harder to get to than this," said Trey Reid with AGFC.

On this trip, it was to find Amy, a young black bear expected to have cubs who was fitted with a radio tracking collar last year.

In the 20th century, black bears in Arkansas were nearly wiped out by hunting and changes in habitat.

The AGFC reintroduced black bears from northern parts of the country and Canada into Arkansas in what is considered the most successful reintroduction of a large carnivore.

"The work we're doing out here today helps us determine what our hunting season should be," Reid explained.

Reid said monitoring the fragile bear population is essential to maintaining a balance between hunting season and new cubs.

"If there are declines in population we've got to react to that pretty quickly," Reid said.

Bear hunting season was reintroduced in Arkansas in the 1980s. Bear hunting season is in the fall, but closes after reaching a certain number of bear kills.

In 2012, that number was 200 bears.

If a decrease in the sample population of 42 female bears is found in the spring, the bear hunting quota for that fall will be adjusted.

"Although it is a small percentage, we can extrapolate that throughout the entire population and get a pretty good estimate about growth rates and that sort of thing," Reid said. 

Bears have a low reproductive rate, only giving birth every two years and to an average of two cubs.

There was only one cub with Amy.
While the 300 pound bear slept soundly thanks to a tranquilizer, bear biologists measured and weighed her cub, a female, which they determined to be about 5 weeks old and in good health. 

It was likely the first time the cub had been out of the den.

Next year, using the radio tracking collar, the group will check Amy and her cub again to measure her growth rate and their health.