KIRKWOOD, MO- Wildlife experts held information sessions across the state this summer to educate Missourians about the growing black bear population. The number of black bears is higher than previously estimated, they said, and residents in the St. Louis area can expect to see them more often.
There was standing room only in the auditorium at the Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center in Kirkwood during an open house Tuesday evening. The event was so well attended, organizers had to hold a second information session after the auditorium reached capacity.
Attendees were eager to find out how the state plans to manage the growing number of black bears.
University City resident Gerald Roth said he often goes camping and floating during the summer and has encountered several people who have seen bears along area rivers. Roth said he is taking precautions to avoid a run-in with a black bear.
"This time we hung our food up on a rope like we would've if we were out west where there are more bears," Roth said.
After being overhunted in the late 1800s, the black bear population has grown steadily over the past century. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) estimates 540-840 are currently living in the state.
MDC tracks bears by visiting their dens, using tracking collars, doing DNA studies, and tracking citizen sightings.
An adult male black bear can weigh up to 450 pounds. Black bears range in color from blond to black.
While most Missouri black bears live in the southern third of the state, as the population grows, they are moving north, said Dan Zarlenga with MDC. Residents have reported bear sightings in areas like Eureka and Ballwin.
Laura Conlee, a bear biologist for MDC, said black bears generally travel alone unless it is a mother with her young. The bears people often come across are young males that have ventured into unfamiliar territory looking for food.
Conlee said bears are attracted to the kind of food source a raccoon would be. If a bear is spotted near a home, she recommends removing bird feeders or compost piles, and securing trash cans.
If someone spots a bear in their yard, Conlee said keep away, and, if possible, make noise to scare the bear away from the area. Do not feed the bear - a bear that becomes a nuisance cannot be relocated back into the wild and must be put down.
Black bears are protected in Missouri, but there is potential for a hunting season in the future. There is no timeline established, but MDC will post new information on its website.