By Jonathan Olivier | LSU Student
State and federal officials are preparing to make a decision at the beginning of 2014 to remove the Louisiana black bear as a threatened subspecies under the Endangered Species Act.
Members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will analyze a quantitative study compiled by Jared Laufenberg, doctoral student at the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee.
Laufenberg's study is projected to be completed by the end of the year, which will include information from several data sources collected by various universities and agencies over the years, he said.
"It's probably the first time that the data collected from all these agencies is going to be compiled together in what hopes to be a more unified analysis, which can better answer the questions we have about whether or not the bears are sustainable in Louisiana," Laufenberg said.
Laufenberg is also relying on data he helped collect in the field with research teams led by Joseph Clark, USGS research ecologist and University of Tennessee adjunct associate professor. Clark was asked by the LDWF in 2006 to develop research criteria to determine if requisites to delist the bear set forth in a recovery plan approved by the USFWS in 1995 had been met, said LDWF Large Carnivore Program Manager Maria Davidson.
"When any species is listed, a recovery plan is written," Davidson said. "Within that recovery plan, they site delisting criteria, what needs to be met before they delist."
The recovery plan refines at least two subpopulations have to be established in the Tensas and Atchafalaya river basins, immigration and emigration corridors need to be created, and the habitat in which the species rely on need to be protected.
The plan's original estimated delisting date, established in 1995, is 2025, putting an upcoming decision years ahead of schedule.
Clark said there has been significant work done to help meet the goals set in. There are currently three growing or stable subpopulations in the Tensas and Atchafalaya river basins and habitat restoration efforts are ongoing, he said.
Combined subpopulations of the bear in current habitat ranges total around 500, which has grown since the bear was listed as threatened in 1992.
"We want it to be viable," Davidson said. "You don't want 5,000 bears crammed into Pointe Coupee Parish. So, there is a point at which you want a population to stabilize and remain at a certain number. When that will be and for each one is going to vary."
Davidson said limited hunting seasons would be used as a part of population control measures.
Though there is no definitive answer regarding the future of the Louisiana black bear, Laufenberg said the data is promising.
"There's clear evidence that since the species was listed as threatened on the endangered species list that the population numbers have increased across the state. They now occupy areas that they previously were not found. These are indications they are on their way to recovery."