LEOLA, Ark. — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) is looking for partners in groundbreaking research. South Arkansas has not had a bear hunting season in 95 years, but that changes this December. If your attention has been trapped this is how landowners can help.
Managing Arkansas’s bear population is no picnic. In 1927, the legislature banned the hunting of black bears statewide because they were almost hunted out.
Through the late 50s & 60s AGFC brought 254 out of state bears Minnesota and Canada to the Ozarks, and in 1980s they reopened hunting in Northwest Arkansas. In 2001, they opened the White River drainage area for hunting.
“Here we are 20 years from that, and we are reopening bear season in zones three and four which is the gulf coastal plain part of the state,” explained Myron Means, Large Carnivore Program Coordinator for AGFC.
The bear population in Arkansas is now thriving. Means said a land survey in the 1951 found only 50 bears in all of Arkansas, but today, AGFC estimates there to be 5,000+ bears in the state’s highlands. 665 bears were legally harvested during the 2020 season.
To ensure the hunts return for good in South Arkansas landowners in 25 counties are needed.
“We’re kind of at the mercy of those corporate landowners or private landowners to be able to come on their property and be able to catch these bears,” stated Means.
Steve Partridge is one of the few clawing at the opportunity. When hearing of the program in mid-September, he called Means, and within days a trap was set on Partridge’s property and soon after a mama bear took the bait.
“It is exciting because I look forward to hopefully be able to take a bear and enjoy another type of hunting here in Arkansas,” Partridge said.
Each bear is given numbered ear tags and a collar, but they are also given a name. Charlotte was named Monday, and she is the fourth that has been tagged for the South Arkansas initiative.
Previous collars only had a radio signal with no GPS capabilities, but now they receive four location updates each day. Collars have a battery life expectancy of four years, but according to Arkansas Game and Fish, bears tracked in the study will be just as legal to harvest during the hunting season.
Carnivore Program Coordinator Myron Means hopes to tag 15 adult females before hunting season starts December 10 to see how location affects population.
“For mountains bears an adult female bear may have a home range of six miles. Down here it may be double that. It may be half that. We don’t know,” Means said.
AGFC may soon as get their paws on the answers they seek thanks to bears like Charlotte and others returning to the wide, wild Arkansas world.