BLACK BEARS IN THE DMR
Posts From Will Rhodes, Wildlife Biologist for Jeff Davis and Reeves Counties with Texas Parks and Wildlife
11/28/18 - Greetings Everyone,
I just wanted to do an introduction and a brief statement regarding black bears in the Davis Mountains.
My name is Will Rhodes, I am the Wildlife Biologist for Jeff Davis and Reeves Counties with Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), I am also a new resident to the DMR. My cabin is at 211 Yellow Knife
Trail. I am originally from Northeast Texas (Jefferson), I did my undergraduate at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. For the past 4 years I worked and lived at Black Gap WMA in southeastern Brewster
County. As of September of this year I moved up to Wildlife Biologist for this area. If anyone has any questions or comments please feel free to message me about anything wildlife related. I know
that TPWD has a reputation for not being very transparent and lacking communication with the public but I will try my best to change that view and answer the questions that I am able to. I only ask
that you don't send me combative, rude, angry or politically charged comments based on view points opposed to TPWD's policies or wildlife and game laws. Please remember that I am only a
person working for TPWD and that I do not make policies and laws. I am more than happy to hear out your view points and questions of course, just don't make me the target if you are unhappy
On subject of Black Bears:
To start off we must understand that black bears have been a part of the Davis Mountains since before written history. When the first settlers made it into the area the abundance of black bears in
the Davis Mountains (then called the Limpia Mountains) was written about several times over. This population was once considered the stronghold of Black Bears within Texas and possibly some
of the highest densities in the country. Black Bear populations began to plummet in the late 1800s to early 1900s as sheep and goats became the staple of livestock ranching in the area. By the
1950's black bear became fairly rare, by the 1960s they were completely extirpated from the Davis Mountains and Texas in general. There were still populations in Northern Mexico just across the
border in the Del Carmen Mountains as well as the mountains in Coahuila, MX.
Black Bears were thought to have made their return to Texas in the mid 1990s when a breeding population was recognized in the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. Since then Black
Bears have been expanding out and returning to the their former ranges and strongholds. Their return to the Davis Mountains was inevitable and their population here will likely rise once more
breeding females make it this area. TPWD is in support of Black Bears returning.
Excerpt from TPWDs Black Bear Page :
"Over the past decade, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has supported the natural recovery of black bears in the Trans Pecos by enforcing laws that prohibit illegal take of bears,
monitoring bear sightings and mortalities, responding to bear depredations with non-lethal means, conducting research on bear food habits, population ecology, and habitat selection (McKinney
and Pittman 2000), and developing technical and popular educational materials. In 2002, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission directed the TPWD to prepare a 10-year strategic plan for the
conservation and management of bears statewide. TPWD initiated the planning process with the creation of two black bear working groups, one each for west and east Texas, composed of
agency, private landowner, and non-government organization stakeholders with diverse interests in black bear conservation and management. The respective regional working groups will review
the historic and current status of black bear resources, prepare conservation/management purpose statements, define management/conservation goals, identify and prioritize important gaps in
the knowledge relating to bears, and develop actions and strategies to implement goals."
Living with Black Bears:
Unfortunately for us, we have lived without Black Bears for so long that we don't think about the things that might be attracting them to us and our property which inevitably leads to encounters and
conflicts. On the flip side of this bears in this area are rarely hazed or have negative interactions with humans as such they largely view as a positive food source and they are comfortable in our
presence. In other parts of the country that normally have bears present, the bears have learned from negative interactions (being hazed/harassed when humans are around) that humans are best
avoided. It is a lifestyle change, unfortunately somethings will have to be changed and I know most of us are resistant to change when we have lived a certain way for so long. This is an excerpt
from the Pennsylvania Game Commission website on "Living with Bears". "If you live in bear country, you may need to make some accommodations to coexist peacefully with these large animals.
Make sure you don't encourage bears to become problem bears by letting potential food sources attract them into residential areas.
Black bears will eat human food, garbage, bird feed, pet foods, fruits from trees or gardens, and livestock feed. They also raid cornfields and beehives. Once bears find easily accessible food
sources, whether on a farm or in a housing development, they will keep coming back as long as food is available. With every returning trip they slowly lose their fear of people, which can lead to
bolder attempts at accessing food, and as time spent near people increases, so does the risk of being struck by a vehicle or becoming a more serious nuisance. The best way to get rid of these
unwanted visitors is to remove or secure food sources. A persistent bear may damage property, increase the risk of human injury, or become an unwanted visitor in other parts of the
neighborhood. And, all too often, fed bears become dead bears.
Perhaps the best way to keep bears from being attracted to your home is to keep them from finding food there in the first place. Don't put out your trash until the morning of collection day. Be sure
garbage cans are cleaned regularly, with hot water and chlorine bleach. Clean the outdoor grill after every use, and properly dispose of grill grease. Don't dump the grease out back. If you feed
birds during summer (and if you're living in bear country, you shouldn't be), you may want to bring all bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders, in at night. Keep the area around your gardens
and fruit trees clean, and avoid putting food scraps in compost piles. Store trash, bird seed and pet food inside a building, garage or secure shed, and keep the door closed. If you have pets, bring
their food pans inside at night. Bears generally steer clear of chained or penned dogs. Unleashed dogs that approach bears, however, may be injured or killed. If you have a dog in bear country,
don't let it roam far from the house, leash it whenever you hike in the woods, and keep it in the house or in a kennel at night. It’s also a good practice in bear country to take a quick look outside
before letting a dog out into the yard, especially at night. Beehives attract bears, especially right after the bruins come out of hibernation in the spring and during the peak honey production period
of late summer and fall. Electric fences are the best way to protect bees, honey and equipment. Contact the appropriate Game Commission region office for information about fencing. Electric
fencing can also be used to protect fruit trees and gardens. Black bears are also attracted to corn, especially in the milk stage. Bears can devastate cornfields. Contact the appropriate Game
Commission region office if bears are causing extensive damage; game wardens may be able to help.
Placing food out for bears, even if intended for other wildlife, can be particularly troublesome. Because the food is predictably available, bears may visit the area more frequently, speeding up the
habituation process. Bears that frequent these areas are often tempted by other food sources in the neighborhood, too, where they can become a significant nuisance. They may raid bird feeders,
clean out dog dishes, kill domestic animals, or rifle through garbage containers. Moreover, feeding congregates bears, which significantly increases the risk of spreading disease since bear are
otherwise mostly solitary animals. Mange, which is a debilitating condition of the skin and fur that can lead to death, is an example of a disease spread by close-animal contact at feeders.
If you come across a bear on your property, there are two possible courses of action. The first is to make loud noises or shout at the bear from a distance – like you'd react to a dog getting into your
trash. The second option is to leave the bear alone, and clean up the bear's mess after it leaves. Follow up by making sure you eliminate whatever attracted the bear in the first place. You may
need to talk to your neighbors, as well.
If bears are regularly feeding at a site, encourage your neighbors or community to clean up and close the area.
Feeding bears is against the law. It is also against the law to put out any feed, for any wildlife, that is causing bears to congregate or habituate to an area."
Thank you for reading over this, I will hopefully be doing a small presentation at the DMPOA Board Meeting in January (sorry I couldn't make the one in December but I had a prior scheduled project
in that time frame) on Black Bears. Again if anyone has any comments or questions feel free to message me.
11/29/18 (MORE ABOUT BEARS)
Hey Folks, Just to keep everyone up to date, I am relaying all bear incident reports to my supervisor. At the moment our plan remains this:
1. We, as a community, will need to become more aware of bears and make changes to the way we are handling wildlife. Bear populations will only be increasing and so we should be prepared
for this. Our mindset should be "We Live In Bear Country" The community will need to establish guidelines for living in bear country that addresses common issues like those below. I know this
is a tough pill to swallow for many, making changes always is. I feel, in the end, making these changes will make life easier for us and the bears. A bear that is habituated to humans is not long for
this world. Every encounter with humans and their property increases the chance of a fatal encounter for the bear. Remember the saying "A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR".
2. We need to change the way we store high value food sources (grain, bird seed, deer corn, sugar water, etc). As long as these items are readily available and easily accessible bears will attempt
to acquire and consume them. Considering how close we are to winter, bears are desperate to put on as much fat as possible before hibernation. It is inconvenient to have to bring things inside
our homes if we don't have a secure building for them, but this may be the best option.
3. Feeding birds and wildlife is only going to make this food available to the bears more easily and thereby attract them to your property. Bears are wildlife so this shouldn't come as surprise. Like I
mentioned above, this time of year is when bear activity especially food gathering is at its peak. As such this is the time of year we should cease putting out food sources.
4. Hazing and harassing bears that intrude on our property has to happen. Bears are protected in the state of Texas from direct intentional harm, however hazing or harassing to deter a bear from
your property is encouraged. While I can not supply people with bean bag rounds constantly, I do encourage those of you that are firearm friendly to have some on hand and utilize them when
needed. While some may welcome bears onto their own property, that bear will likely not stay on your property and will go to another person's property. This could then lead to the death of that
bear. If you care about bears, don't allow them to habituate to humans at all. Again, a tough pill, but it is for the best in the end.
With all of this said, if there is a bear on your property and you are hesitant to haze the bear please call me as soon as possible. I will attempt to get to your place as quickly as I can to assist you.
432-244-6431 - This is my work cell.
Thanks again, Will
Oh and please spread the word to anyone that does not have access to the internet and facebook!
*edit* I also realize that for many people that immediate reaction is that we should relocate the bear. This is more problematic than it sounds however. Removing the bear doesn't resolve the issue
of what was attracting the bear in the first place, another bear will quickly replace it and we end up right back where we started. Also relocating a bear to a new environment at this time of the year is
a pretty much a death sentence. The bear doesn't know any denning locations or food sources, as such it either starve to death over the winter or seek out humans even more. This would then be
the last strike, a problem bear that continues to be a problem after relocation is not tolerated.