While they stand guard on our state seal, few of us have ever seen a bear in Missouri.
In recent years, however, black bear sightings — primarily in the southern reaches of the state — have increased to the point the Missouri Department of Conservation wants to measure the population.
The bears, native to the Ozarks, were wiped out in the early years of human settlement due to overhunting. However, biologists believe an imported population in Arkansas migrated north and now permanently reside in the Show-Me State.
The black bear expansion is another indicator of Missouri's success in conservation.
Residents have placed a priority on preserving and protecting wildlife and their habit for many years and now see the benefits. Missouri is blessed to have thriving industry and agriculture, as well as areas so wild and untouched to support native bears.
The Department of Conservation acknowledges it does not want the bear population to expand to the point that bears pester residents and we become intolerant of the animals.
Case in point: The last thing Missouri needs is for the black bear's return to be as successful as that of the whitetail deer.
Conservationists expect the bear population to remain fairly small in the state, due to limited prime habitat and their slow rate of reproduction. The count is a good beginning to understanding how these animals will thrive in their once-native state.
We're proud to see black bears back in the Missouri Ozarks and we'd be just as pleased if they stayed right there.
From the St. Joseph News-Press. Reprinted courtesy of The Associated Press.