So there are now about 300 black bears in Missouri.
That’s according to the latest information released by the Missouri Department of Conservation and its Grand Bear Poobah, Jeff Beringer (whose name couldn’t be better under the circumstances). The numbers come from a project now in its fourth year, aptly called the Missouri Black Bear Project.
Interestingly, Beringer and Co. seem to actually admit that bears not only exist in Missouri, but stay. A report from the project indicates that four separate “populations” have been identified in the state and that the presence of females can determine if a population is transient or stationary.
This would seem to go against the MDC’s well-publicized cougar policy. Remember: There’s no breeding population of cougars in Missouri and all those you, your relatives or your friends claim to have seen or heard are simply passing through from states to the west to states to the east (never the other way, mind you) in search of mates or territory (because, obviously, there are no worthy mates amongst all the passers-through, and there’s no worthy territory in Missouri).
While cougars apparently consider Missouri a barren wasteland to be avoided unless used for passage to the beauty that lies beyond, the MDC apparently has determined the same isn’t true for bears. Apparently, bears somehow find Missouri attractive enough to set up camp and, well, proliferate.
A quick reset: Missouri bears are believed to mostly be descendants of a bear re-stocking project decades ago in Arkansas, when bears from Minnesota were released in the Natural State. So I guess now we’re to accept that many Missouri bears could actually be Missouri bears, and not just wandering wildlife wishing they were somewhere else like their big feline brethren.
To me, there’s reason to wonder why. The fact our state’s conservation experts aren’t insisting that bears don’t stay and breed in Missouri begs the question: What is it about the Show Me State that would make a bear want to become part of a “breeding population?”
Just what exactly are “The 300” doing here?
Maybe they heard the hot light was on more often at Missouri’s Krispy Kreme Donuts locations than those in Arkansas.
Maybe they’re St. Louis Cardinals fans and their radios don’t pick up the voices of Mike Shannon and John Rooney very well from down in Arkansas.
Maybe they prefer the local craft beers brewed here to the ones produced there.
Or maybe, just maybe, there’s enough wilderness, food and other stuff in portions of Missouri to make up an ideal habitat for a large, omnivorous animal. Yep, maybe when bears are bedding down for the evening in some sheltered hollow deep in an Ozarks wilderness, their bellies full and their cubs happy and content, they look at each other and say, “Those cougars – they just don’t know what they’re missing.”
Either that or the cougars are bedding down in their own perfect spot a ridge away and they’re going, “Ahh, home sweet home.”
Anyway, I guess at this point we’re supposed to go with this mindset in Missouri: Bears, yes, cougars, no. Hmmm.
If you’re interested, the MDC has a really cool bear-tracking website that allows for following specific individuals that have been outfitted with high-tech electronic jewelry. Check it out at http://www.fwrc.msstate.edu/carnivore/mo_bear/.
In conclusion, I’d like to repeat something I’ve said multiple times in the past: I’m a huge fan of the Missouri Department of Conservation and unlike some other Show Me State residents (some of whom make a living in similar fashion to me by writing for news publications), I like all the guys I’ve ever met who wear shirts bearing the agency’s patch and I have a great appreciation for what they do.
I’m just not a fan of that weird cougar policy. But kudos to Beringer’s bunch for not trying to present bears as nothing more than traveling vagabonds who consider Missouri a place to enter only for the purpose of exiting on the other side.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.