Black bears part of Alabama’s ecosystem




Recent sightings of black bears in different parts of Alabama have many wondering if the animal’s presence in the state is increasing. The heart of bear country in Alabama is its piney woods hills, titi thickets, and river swamps. This has been the case for hundreds of years.

In the midst of these natural habitats is a relatively new landscape that is becoming increasingly prevalent – cleared land with stone and wooden dwellings. The occupants of these habitats are humans. People who move into these once rural settings are unaware of and unfamiliar with the native wildlife that continues to exist in surrounding woodlands, including black bears.

The remaining core habitats of the protected black bears in Alabama are located primarily in Mobile, Washington, and Baldwin counties. Bears once roamed throughout the state before the alpha predators (people).

Based on current and verified reports of sightings, sign, road kills, game camera images, as well as movement patterns of radioed bears, some animals are thought to be establishing home ranges in other regions of Alabama. Changes in bear range and movements may be the result of a combination of factors such as altered habitats due to development and a natural growth in the density of black bears.

What this all means is an increased chance of bear-human encounters or conflicts. And in these outlying, suburban/ rural settings, the “back yard” of homes is where the two meet. If you live in bear country, the key is to educate yourself on how some human actions may alter the behavior of black bears. Most conflicts are related to the animal’s search for food.

Bears have an acute sense of smell and if one unwittingly leaves “groceries” outside, bears may come to investigate, eat, and return for more. Sources of food include deer feeders, pet food, trash receptacles, and even bird feeders.

Although black bears in Alabama typically display a “flight response” around people, bears that continue to get an easy meal near your home may keep coming back. Bears that are conditioned to associate food with people may lose that natural fear, which raises the bar on possible aggressive encounters.

Most potential bear conflicts can be avoided through implementing fairly simple preventative measures. First, if you do not want bears in close proximity of your home, then discontinue any feeding of wildlife, period! And if you live in a neighborhood, all the nearby residents need to abide by this recommendation for it to be most effective.

Second, do not leave any uneaten pet food and the bowls outside for any length of time. Third, place trash outside on the day of pickup and not before. Store trash inside the residence or keep it in an enclosed shed or garage. Doublebag your garbage and periodically disinfect trash cans. Sometimes, protective fencing around other sources such as gardens may be necessary.

Keep in mind that if you live or move into bear habitat, the animals will most likely remain in the area, but by following a preventative strategy, most of the close-to-home encounters can be avoided. The implementation of the previously mentioned preventive measures may be all that is needed to avoid conflicts.

Trapping and relocating of bears in Alabama is often unproductive. Moving a nuisance bear to another area may end up just moving the nuisance somewhere else.

Also, bears have an excellent homing instinct and have been documented traveling up to 400 miles from the relocation site. So, the relocated bear may end up back at the original trap site.

The Alabama Black Bear Alliance (ABBA) is a conservation organization that represents a broad coalition of diverse interests with the goal of working cooperatively and voluntarily for the conservation of the black bear in Alabama through research, education, and habitat management.

Much of the information in this article including preventive conflict strategies is a result of ABBA’s educational efforts. Visit their website at www.alabamablackbearalliance.org to learn more about living in bear country. Bear sightings can also be reported and submitted electronically from this website. Also, please report all bear sightings to your local Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater officials.