TALLULAH, La. - U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that due to 24 years of dedicated recovery efforts by a broad array of partners, the Louisiana black bear-the inspiration for the teddy bear-will be removed from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The species restoration is a significant conservation success and further demonstrates the value of the Endangered Species Act.
Jewell was joined by U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Ann Mills, U.S. Department of the Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Michael Bean, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Charlie Melancon, and other conservation partners at the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana to celebrate the success.
The fabled bear became part of American culture after a hunting trip to Mississippi in 1902, where President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear that was trapped and tied to a tree by members of his hunting party. The episode was featured in a cartoon in The Washington Post, sparking the idea for a Brooklyn candy-store owner to create the “Teddy” bear.
“President Theodore Roosevelt would have really enjoyed why we are gathered here today,” Secretary Jewell said. “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. 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 follows a comprehensive scientific review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the bear’s status. The Service also released a final post-delisting monitoring plan that will help ensure the bear’s future remains secure.
The majority of Louisiana black bear habitat falls on private lands, where the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the Interior worked with Louisiana farmers to voluntarily restore more than 485,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests in priority areas for conservation. One key tool was the use of conservation easements in these targeted areas, through which USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) worked with farmers to restore habitat on difficult-to-farm lands. This strategic approach became one of the building blocks for Working Lands for Wildlife, a partnership between the Service and NRCS to conserve wildlife habitats on agricultural lands nationwide.
“Farmers played a pivotal role in helping the Louisiana black bear recover, using easements and other Farm Bill conservation programs to sew together primary habitat corridors,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “By working together, we’re able to achieve more conservation, direct resources where biological returns are highest and achieve a larger habitat footprint spanning public and private lands.”
“The recovery of the Louisiana black bear is an outstanding conservation accomplishment,” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Led by Louisiana and former Secretary Robert Barham, along with Texas and Mississippi, our state partners and private landowners have been crucial to this achievement. The ESA’s success in preventing extinction and recovering species is in large part due to the countless partnerships like these that it helps to foster.”
When the Louisiana black bear was listed under the ESA in 1992 due to habitat loss, reduced quality of habitat and human-related mortality, the three known breeding subpopulations were confined to the bottomland hardwood forests of Louisiana in the Tensas and Upper and Lower Atchafalaya River basins. Today, those subpopulations have all increased in number and have stabilized to increasing growth rates. Additional breeding subpopulations are forming in Louisiana and Mississippi, providing a healthy long-term outlook for the species.
The partners conducted research regarding the status of the existing populations, established additional subpopulations and protected or restored more than 750,000 acres of habitat. A large proportion of habitat that supports and connects breeding subpopulations has been protected and restored voluntarily through private landowner restoration efforts.
The Service proposed to delist the Louisiana black bear in May 2015 after determining the recovery criteria, as defined in the 1995 Louisiana Black Bear Recovery Plan, had been met and that threats to the bear were reduced or eliminated. In 1992, at the time of the listing, there were as few as 150 bears in Louisiana habitat. Today, the Service estimates that 500-750 bears live across the species’ current range where successful recovery efforts are allowing breeding populations to expand. As such, the bear is not likely to become in danger of extinction now or within the foreseeable future.
“Growing up in the Sportsman’s Paradise, I’m proud to join in the announcement of the recovery of the Louisiana black bear,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “The resurrection of this iconic symbol of our nation and Louisiana shows the value of science and collaborative research. It also represents a commitment to conservation with so many willing partners from private landowners to state and federal agencies, universities and non-governmental organizations coming together to make sure the Louisiana black bear will be around for many generations to come.”
“As a former veterinarian and an avid outdoorsman from Northeast Louisiana, I am so proud that the black bear has been removed from the endangered species list,” U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham said. “This is a terrific comeback story that reflects the dedicated work of so many people from throughout Louisiana, and I’m excited that our beloved Teddy Bear will be here for the next generation of Louisianans to enjoy.”
The ESA is an essential tool for conserving the nation’s most at-risk wildlife, as well as the land and water on which they depend for habitat. The ESA has saved more than 99 percent of the species listed from the brink of extinction and has served as the critical safety net for wildlife that Congress intended when it passed the law 40 years ago. The Obama Administration has delisted more species due to recovery than any other administration; those species include the Oregon chub, Virginia northern flying squirrel and brown pelican.