WV Wildlife: West Virginia Black Bears

This is the future of black bears in West Virginia--this little guy's future is bright. (WCHS/WVAH)

Black bears are West Virginia.

Not only are they our state animal, but they also play a crucial role in our wildlife system.

That's why DNR biologists have been keeping a close eye on them for a long time.

Colin Carpenter, wildlife biologist and black bear project leader, especially keeps tabs on these animals--both large and small.

"Ongoing black bear research since 1972. So, we're always doing something with bears. And a big part of it--if we're not doing an active research project, we're always monitoring, because we're always collecting data to refine our hunting seasons and coming up with better ways to manage our bear population", said Carpenter.

The DNR has done a terrific job with that, too. Back in the 50s and 60s, there were only about 500 black bears estimated in the entire state! Now, after careful management and picking the right time to have a hunting season, the population is as healthy as it's ever been.

"Now we have upwards of 15,000 animals statewide. When we look at setting seasons, we know the earlier that we set our hunting seasons, the more bears are available--but it really shows us, and it kind of backs up what we've known all along, is that if you want to protect the female segment of the population, you have your hunting seasons later in the year", said Carpenter.

Their recent research, which includes year-round monitoring and using radio collars, has really enhanced their understanding of the bears habits, too.

Carpenter explains: “The thing that's really interesting is that we are getting good solid data on den entrance and emergence times, which we didn't have before, so we know when these females are going into the den in the fall and we know when they're coming out in the spring"

As for the future--it's all about these little guys. Colin is pleased with what he's seen.

"Can't remember in 15 years ever having any cubs that looked really bad. The cubs we handle, typically, are healthy cubs. We try to keep our finger on the pulse of the bear population over time to look for major changes that may be happening--and that's why we do long-term monitoring. Bigger data sets are always better when we are trying to detect small changes, so we'll always be monitoring our bear population."

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