Commission Meeting Agenda Item No. 10
Presenter: Dana Karelus

Black Bear Update
January 25, 2024

I.      Executive Summary: Historically, black bears occupied much of Texas, but bear populations were extirpated from the state by the mid-1900s. Today, bears have recolonized a portion of their former range in West Texas. Staff will update the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on the current knowledge of bears, current bear projects in Texas, and bear management strategies by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

II.     Discussion: Black bears once ranged over much of Texas; however, heavy unregulated hunting resulted in the extirpation from the entire state by the mid-1900s. Similar declines in Mexico throughout the 1900s resulted in this species being listed as endangered in 1985 in Mexico. Following that, in 1987, TPWD listed black bears as endangered in Texas. That status was changed to state threatened in December 1996 after black bears dispersing from Mexico began to stay and breed in West Texas, though, the population remains unstable. For example, there have been instances documented in West Texas where large numbers of bears returned to Mexico during times of drought and lack of food availability, resulting in significant declines in an already small population in Texas.

TPWD has been monitoring bear populations over the past two decades. Females with cubs have been documented in portions of six counties in West Texas. However, recolonization is slow in much of the region. Breeding bears have not been detected in the rest of the state. Individual bears can travel large distances when they disperse and on occasion are detected far from their core breeding populations.

The degree to which the bears in the West Texas population rely on habitat in Mexico is unknown, and there is no science-based estimate of bear population size in Texas today. Beginning in 2024, a TPWD-funded project will estimate bear density in Black Gap Wildlife Management Area and investigate the potential stability of the West Texas population. Filling these knowledge gaps will provide the first contemporary step into better understanding bear populations in the state and will provide a framework for future population monitoring across the larger region.

The TPWD Black Bear Management Plan was signed by the TPWD Executive Director in January of 2023 and largely focuses on minimizing human-bear conflicts. TPWD is making many efforts to help meet this goal, including participating in the multi-state BearWise program, producing publications and videos for the public, holding public meetings, and sharing bear information at events. Staff have also worked closely with individual landowners, local businesses, and the local disposal companies to help secure attractants.