Photo: Missouri Department of Conservation
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has received several reports of recent bear sightings in Fenton—as well as others in neighboring Jefferson, Franklin, and Crawford Counties. They remind us that black bears are becoming a growing part of the St. Louis regional landscape.
Why the increase in sightings lately? MDC’s ongoing bear research indicates the Show-Me-State is currently home to around 800 black bears, and that population is growing by 9% each year. Only one species can be found in this state—the American black bear—though multiple color phases can be found in Missouri with, such that a bear’s fur can be brown, red, cinnamon in color.
“Most of our bears are found in the southern part of the state. That’s where we have the largest tracts of forested habitat,” said Tom Meister, MDC Wildlife Damage Control Biologist for MDC’s St. Louis Region.
However, research also shows the population is expanding, both in total numbers and range. As the population grows and expands, bears are showing up in areas further north. Additionally, late spring/ early summer is prime time for bears to be on the move. Young bears begin to wander seeking food and an area to settle and adult males begin moving large distances in search of females. The recent uptick in sightings is likely a combination of bear range expanding and the time of year when bears can move large distances.
These creatures are part of our state’s natural history and many people enjoy the thought of seeing one of these impressive animals. With an expanding population of bears, however, comes an increased potential of human-bear interactions.
While generally not aggressive, like any wild animal black bears are driven to find food. It takes a lot of calories to fuel an animal that typically weighs several hundred pounds and they can be attracted to a variety of food sources this time of year.
“The bears have been out of hibernation since spring. Now they’re hungry. They were dormant for all winter, and they’re looking for food. So, we don’t want to tempt them,” Meister said.
Food, or rather the lack of it, is key to avoiding conflicts with bears. Meister stressed not to offer them food, either intentionally or unintentionally. Intentionally feeding bears can be dangerous as it makes the bears comfortable around people. It can also lead bears to cause significant damage to property while searching for a meal.