Multiyear Study Aims to Understand Black Bear Ecology and Reduce Human-Bear Conflicts in West Texas

Photo: BRI research technicians Matt Hewitt and Nicole Dickan, along with TPWD mammalogist Dana Karelus and TPWD wildlife diversity biologist Krysta Demere place a bear trap near Terlingua.

West Texas has experienced an increase in black bear populations in recent years, leading to growing concerns over potential human-bear conflicts. In response, the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University has launched a multiyear study to better understand the ecology of black bears in the region.

The study, titled “Understanding Natural Recolonization of Black Bears in West Texas,” will follow 30 collared bears over a period of two to five years in locations surrounding Big Bend National Park, the Davis Mountains, and the Devils River corridor. The project has received funding from various organizations, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and the West Texas Chapter of Safari Club International.

The goal of the research is to gather data on the ranging habits, population numbers, and seasonal diets of black bears in West Texas to minimize human-bear conflicts and inform management decisions. Preliminary data suggests that relocating “nuisance bears” may not be effective in deterring them from seeking out human food sources, including garbage cans, dumpsters, deer feeders, and pet food.

Community support is seen as critical to reducing human-bear conflicts. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is leading community engagement efforts by hosting workshops, including “Living with Black Bear in West Texas,” which took place in January. The workshop discussed the history of black bears in West Texas, natural bear behavior, and how to deter bears from residences, garbage, and deer feeders.

As black bears continue to return to Texas, the study aims to provide crucial information to ensure the coexistence of humans and bears without conflict.

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