Throughout the Delta and its adjacent hills, residents may be seeing more black bears.

Richard Rummel

Richard Rummel of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks holds a pair of black bear cubs found during a 2017 den check in Issaquena County. “We’re seeing more in the past few years,” he said about bear sightings in Tallahatchie, Leflore and Carroll counties.

Richard Rummel, black bear program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said the department is getting more calls about bear sightings.

“We’re seeing more in the past few years,” he said, looking at a map highlighting Leflore, Carroll and Tallahatchie counties. “We’ve been getting more sightings and reports in the past five years or so.”

He explained that “bears do not require tens of thousands of acres of woods” and that males may travel up to 100 miles from where they were born to find their own territory.

In Mississippi, “while their primary breeding locations are along the Mississippi River, they’re moving more towards the center of the state,” he said.

He said these are the bears that might be wandering into nearby hills.

“When you go up there, there is a lot more woods,” he said. “Big Black River goes up through there, and those bears will travel those wooden areas. They’ll use those just like a highway.”

This kind of travel is not an unusual trait among bears, he said: “It’s natural behavior.”

One issue, however, may be interaction with humans and large animals, perhaps on farms or in fields near towns.

Bear tips

“Then you get towards Greenwood, and a lot of that land is primarily agriculture, but then you have those patches of woods,” he said. “Bears will travel that.”

He said bears will cross fields and snack on things such as corn, which is currently in harvest.  

Erle West Barham, a farmer and wildlife enthusiast who splits his time between Mississippi and Louisiana,  said, “They love corn. They’ll eat a bunch of it.”

He also warns that people should take caution when near these animals. “A bear is a big critter,” he said, “and it isn’t always dangerous, but it has the potential to be.”

According to BearWise, an organization that helps people live responsibly with black bears, people should never run from them.

“Don’t approach a bear; just quietly move away and leave the area. However, if a bear does approach you, make yourself look big. Make loud noises, clap your hands and continue to back away,” the group advises.

Currently, Mississippi has no hunting season on bears, but that might change.

“The bear population is growing, and down the road in 15 or 20 years, there may be a hunting season on bears,” Rummel says.

This might be a good idea, Barham said: “The best way to regulate a population is to have a properly run  season — not now but once the population goes up.”

Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or abakst@gwcommonwealth.com. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW

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