The Louisiana black bear, the animal credited with spawning the phrase “teddy bear”, is to be removed from the federal list of endangered wildlife following a two-decade conservation effort.
The US Department of the Interior said the “conservation success” of the bear meant it no longer required the protection of the endangered species act, which bars any killing or removal of listed creatures. The black bear will continue to be monitored, however, and it’s expected that there won’t be an immediate return to hunting the animal.
Hunting black bears was very much in vogue in 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt set out to shoot a bear in rural Mississippi, aided by former slave and Confederate cavalryman Holt Collier, who had 3,000 kills to his name.
Roosevelt, a known big-game hunter, failed to locate a single bear until his assistants found one that had been injured by dogs that had tracked it down. The bear was tied to a tree and the president was invited to shoot it. But Roosevelt refused to do so, as he thought it was unsportsmanlike.
This refusal was depicted in a subsequent cartoon in the Washington Post, which in turn prompted a New York store to put two stuffed bears, called “Teddy’s bears” in the window. Roosevelt later gave permission for toy bears to be sold with this moniker.
The fortunes of the Louisiana black bear faded, however, with the species losing more than 80% of its habitat by 1980. The animal is one of 16 subspecies of black bear, and has a longer, narrower skull than other black bears. It is found in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, where it is the state mammal.
In 1992, the Louisiana black bear was listed under the Endangered Species Act, which provided protection for the animal as well as restoration of some of its habitat. A total of 485,000 acres of forests have been restored for the bear, with numbers climbing from around 150 bears to as many as 750 now.
The federal government has determined that the bear is now not at risk of becoming extinct and that the restored habitat, along with growth in breeding pair numbers, will ensure its future.
Sally Jewell, secretary of the interior, said Roosevelt “would have really enjoyed” the recovery of the bear.
“Working together across private and public lands with so many partners embodies the conservation ethic he stood for when he established the National Wildlife Refuge System as part of the solution to address troubling trends for the nation’s wildlife,” she said.
“As I said last spring when the delisting proposal was announced, the Louisiana black bear is another success story for the endangered species act.”
The delisting has not been universally welcomed, however, with some conservation groups claiming it is a politically motivated move to get hunting back on the agenda. The Sierra Club has said the delisting is “very premature” because there are inadequate forested corridors connecting bear habitat.
This article was first published by The Guardian on 10 Mar 2016.
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