NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Over the last 20 years occasional bear sightings in East Texas have occurred, but not one sticks around for any length of time.
A wildlife biologist in Nacogdoches said ongoing research provides no evidence of any breeding bears in the region yet. East Texas News got an update on bear science from the resident expert at Stephen F. Austin State University.
What path will bears take when they do decide to live permanently in East Texas? SFA's wildlife biologist Dr. Chris Comer and his students are looking for the answer.
"The latest sort of study we're doing is looking at the areas between where bears are now, which is primarily in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana and evaluating where the best corridors are to get them from their existing population to potentially, naturally, colonize these areas in East Texas," Comer said.
The confirmed bear sightings in East Texas are almost always male bears on the prowl.
"So we have males that show up when they're looking for new territory," Comer said. "They like it for a while because there's a lot to eat and a good place to be, but they all, they want to have female bears to stay long term. Eventually they realize there are no females here and they head back to where they came from."
Relocating bears from other regions to Louisiana and neighboring states worked. Comer said a lot stands in the way of doing the same in Texas.
"Among those being that the Louisiana black bear, which was the sub-species listed here historically, has been a listed species, federally threatened species, so there are no available bears to move here," Comer said. "And the other big thing is sort of public support and financial support for that and we haven't really had that."
So for now, it's up to the bears when they want to leave neighboring states and move to East Texas for good. Comer and other scientists say that could be in 20 to 25 years.
There may be less than 20 bears in East Texas at any given time, but bears are thriving in Oklahoma. The bear archery season in designated Oklahoma counties comes to an end Sunday, followed later in the month by muzzleloader season.
The wildlife department has set the total harvest quota to 20 bears.