Back in 2008 I wrote a bit about the phenomenal population growth rate of black bears in the U.S.:
The black bear population of the United States is estimated to have grown by up to 35 percent between 1988 and 1995, from a population range of 253,000 to 375,000 bears in 1988, to a population of 339,000 to 465,000 bears by the mid-1990s.I wasn't wrong!
Since the mid-1990s, the black bear population in the U.S. has continued to grow very rapidly, and its range is extending into areas where it had once been extirpated (such as Ohio and North Dakota).
All of this is good news, and a sign of nation-wide environmental improvement. As rough as we have been on the environment, Mother Nature really is as tough as an old boot and generally will recover if we stop beating her to death. A country with half a million black bear is country with a lot of land left for fox, possum. groundhog, coyote, wolf, deer, moose, alligator, badger, beaver, pine marten, hawk and eagle.
A sustained black bear population growth of 3 percent per year (which seems to be occurring despite legal bear hunting in 27 states) could mean that the U.S. black bear population might rise to nearly one million bears by 2025.
National Geographic reports:
The American black bear (Ursus americanus), which was heavily diminished by overhunting, habitat loss, and fragmentation in the past century, is making an impressive comeback in parts of North America—particularly the East. An estimated 800,000 black bears roam the continent, slowly returning to many of their old haunts.
Three success stories highlight the resurgence of the up-to-600-pound (270-kilogram) omnivores. The Department of the Interior announced in May that Louisiana's black bears may be pulled from the Endangered Species list, where they've sat since 1992. Years of legal protection, better habitat, and a reintroduction program have helped boost the population from as few as 200 animals to some 750 or more.
In Florida, an extensive new survey shows bear numbers have doubled, to some 1,200 animals, in one area and increased by almost a third in another since 2002. (See "Why Are Black Bear Attacks Up in Florida?")
And in Maryland, bears have rebounded strongly, with 1,000 adults now living in two western counties. That's due to longtime laws in Maryland and surrounding states that protect the species, plus the growth of more bear-friendly landscapes—for example, young forests have matured into trees that produce more food, like acorns, hickory nuts, and cherries.
Scientists say they believe there are now more black bears in North America than there were in the 1600s.
As the black bear population has risen, conflicts with humans has risen, while controlled hunting seasons have become much more common than they were 3o or 40 years ago. Today, 32 out of 41 states where black bears exist have a hunting season, including my home state of Virginia where 2,000-3,000 black bear a year are shot under a state-monitored management system based on sound science.
Black bears are among the least dangerous animals in North America -- much less dangerous than honey bees, white-tail deer, pit bulls, ex-wives, moose, elk, cows, or horses.
Black bears attack fewer than 25 people a year in North America, and kill maybe two a year, as compared to deer and bees, which each kill about 125 people a year.