By Justin Monk, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
Alabama’s black bear (Ursus americanus) population was once rich across the entire state. Today, the majority are confined to the forested swamps of Alabama. Reports have shown bears have breeding populations in Baldwin, Clarke, Mobile and Washington counties. There have been some observational reports in other areas of the state. The black bear species that we usually see in Alabama is the Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus).
Black bears require large tracts of timber with adjacent bottomland hardwood habitat. They prefer having thick timber nearby for shelter and to provide a wide variety of food sources. Black bears also require water near where they spend most of their time. Last but not least, they need a denning site in the area. New timber practices and commercial and residential development have caused a tremendous loss of habitat for the black bear in south Alabama. The black bear population in south Alabama today is restricted to only about 146 square miles.
Most people think of black bears as aggressive predators but nothing can be further from the truth. On the contrary, black bears are actually poor predators. They mostly feed on plants, berries, nuts, roots and bark. Only a small percentage of a black bear’s diet is protein and most of that comes from eating insects. Most public opinions on black bears tend to be negative because people are not educated about the species. Black bears are just like most all wild animals, in that they will almost always run when given the chance. Black bears are very shy animals. This is why most people have never witnessed one in person. Rarely, black bears may attack if they feel threatened or when a sow senses her cubs are being threatened. Although they are usually harmless, you should always avoid any kind of interaction with black bears. They are large and powerful wild animals.
One of the biggest problems pertaining to the public and black bears is caused by baiting. Whether it’s feeding wildlife in your back yard or spreading bait in front of trail cameras, black bears tend to hang around bait as long as it is available. If you don’t want black bears scaring away your wildlife, stop feeding. Feeding can also cause black bears to lose their cautious nature toward humans. They will begin to associate humans with food, which increases the chance of a human and bear encounter. Generally speaking, nuisance bears result from conditioned feeding associated with people.
Although the black bear population is still low from what it once was, we are beginning to see a small increase in their population in south Alabama. With the availability of habitat decreasing each year, it becomes even more important that any population growth be nurtured through education and cooperation. This will help ensure the future success story of the Alabama black bear.