Bears on comeback in Madison Parish

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 17, 2003

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Manager Jerome E. Ford explains why black bears are seen so often around Tallulah and the surrounding areas.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[10/17/03]TALLULAH A Hunter hit a black bear on a Madison Parish road earlier this week, but note it was a capital “H” Hunter. A lowercase “h” hunter harming a bear would be in jail.

Garrett Hunter was at the U.S. 80 and appropriately named East Bear Lake Road intersection Tuesday night when his vehicle struck the Louisiana black bear, Madison Parish Sheriff’s Department records show.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The bear died as a result of its injuries, said Sammie L. Byrd, chief criminal deputy for the Madison Parish Sheriff’s Department.

Byrd said he’s not surprised by what happened because, due to state and federal efforts, the once-rare beasts are making a comeback. He’s seen the bears, and so have others who make regular reports.

“Probably in the last couple of years we’ve had more reports than ever before,” he said.

Increasingly, Madison and Tensas parish residents have stories to tell.

“I heard one, I never saw it,” said Caryn Oliver, a fourth-grade teacher at Tallulah Academy.

She said one morning in July she walked outside of her house, just a few miles from Tallulah, and heard something growling. Shortly after hearing the growl, Oliver went back inside.

She said it would have been nice to see the bear, but it didn’t sound friendly.

“I didn’t want to get up close and personal, but I wanted to see it,” said Oliver.

Oliver also said she’s heard about a woman who lives near her who walked on her porch a few months ago to find a bear lounging. The bear left soon after he was discovered, Oliver said.

Byrd said he hears bear stories from deputies and investigators with whom he works. They talk about the bears making an introduction to them while they were hunting.

One such person is Dickie Thomas, an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office here and an avid hunter. He said he stood not too far from a black bear eating grass Oct. 10 while he was hunting south of town.

Thomas said he thinks the fear between the black bears and people is mutual. During his most recent bear encounter, Thomas said the bear stopped and looked at him for a moment.

“I saw him and just went around to my deer stand,” Thomas said. “And then he went back to what he was doing.”

Although providing habitat for the bears is intensifying on the other side of the Mississippi, Thomas said he’s been seeing bears in the area since the 1960s, and some big ones, too.

“It’s not uncommon to see one 400 pounds,” he said with little expression on his face.

The Louisiana black bear roamed the bottomland hardwoods near the river until widespread clearing started about 100 years ago. As their sources of food and shelter disappeared, they did, too.

The Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, about 20 miles southwest of Tallulah, and the Delta National Forest in the lower Delta north of Vicksburg, have active bear programs.

Jerome Ford, Tensas manager, said his office gets three to four calls a week from people in the area reporting bear sightings.

And some are that the bears are being a nuisance near Rayville or Delta or Delhi or Crowville. He said most of the time a bear has wandered to a house or a deer camp.

He said the bears aren’t usually ill-tempered, but a mother bear will protect her cubs.

“She’s going to be a little aggressive,” Ford said, standing outside of the refuge’s office Thursday afternoon.

Ford warned that although the bears can be a problem at times, it’s illegal to harm them.

He said the last study showed an estimated 120 to 150 black bears on the forested refuge, which he describes as “an island in a field of agriculture.”

“During the last 10 years the habitat has stopped declining,” Ford said, and efforts are under way to add preserves on both sides of the river so the higher number of bears can have larger territories.

Byrd said he didn’t have any statistics on how many car accidents were caused by bears, but he said bears aren’t the only creatures causing traffic problems. Alligators have been crossing the street a lot these days, too.

Yes, Byrd said. “Cars are actually hitting alligators.”